Budget talks grind onwards, legislators declare optimism

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Budget negotiations are continuing at the White House, but they’re tangled in the Democrats’ demand for tax and spending increases, and in disputes over the GOP’s demands for budget cuts and Obamacare reforms.

The talks may produce a two-part deal that would provide both factions with policy and budgetary wins, while also allowing both sides to say they didn’t reverse themselves on key provisions.

For example, a deal might require the GOP to pass a so-called “clean” bill to raise the federal government’s debt level and to fully fund the government until a 2014 spending plan is developed, without any binding policy provisos.

Simultaneously, Obama could be required to accept a GOP proposal to schedule a short-term negotiating session that would curb spending and set some changes to Obamacare.

Negotiators are being very tight-lipped about the dealmaking, partly because the negotiations are complex, uncertain and unsettled.

House Republicans and Senate Republicans are proposing two different measures, and Obama and his allied Democrats are pushing for tax and spending increases. Neither side wants to anger its voters, and the various participants are reluctant to predict where the talks will go.

“I’m not going to have a lot to offer to you today,” Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, said late Friday.

Some in the GOP’s base aren’t happy about the apparent willingness of GOP leaders, such as House Speaker John Boehner, to weaken their push for changes in the far-reaching Obamacare takeover of the nation’s health sector.

“I don’t see how they can go without changes,” said Jenny Beth Martin, president and co-founder of Tea Party Patriots. Her group’s leaders have been talking to legislators around the country, and monitoring statements from GOP leaders, such as Rep. Paul Ryan, she said.

The House GOP’s budget proposal is intended to ease the launch of a six-week negotiation on next year’s spending.

Obama is also pressing for spending increases and tax increases, such as rollback of the sequester cuts agreed to in the 2011 budget talks.

Obama does not want to admit he’s begun negotiating with the GOP, following numerous public vows not to negotiate until the GOP gave up its main demands.

“We’re listening and we’re talking,” said Carney, who also downplayed the president’s decision to reverse his public opposition to signing another mini-funding bill that ensures that death benefits are paid to the families of soldiers killed in combat.

In a conciliatory signal, Carney also scaled back the aggressive and negative tone that he and Obama have used for the last few weeks.

The Oct. 10 meeting with top House Republicans “was constructive, and we believe it is the right thing to do to continue to have talks,” Carney told reporters Oct. 11.

“No one gets everything they want when it comes to these kind of negotiations,” he added.

Carney also opened the door to some non-critical reforms of Obamacare, while decrying any effort to revamp or kill the unpopular government takeover of the nation’s health sector.

“He is open to suggestions from anyone about how to improve the Affordable Care Act, and make the benefits it provides better and more efficiently delivered,” he said.

GOP senators visited the White House Oct. 11, and several provided reporters with hopeful-sounding messages.

Those senators include Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Maine’s Susan Collins and North Carolina’s Richard Burr.

Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. John McCain, for example, told reporters that Obama didn’t reject a proposal to kill off the Obamacare tax on medical devices.

Republican legislators are getting pressure from business groups to sign a deal with Obama, but they can’t afford to alienate tea party and swing voters they need next November.

The House Republicans’ stance “sounds like it’s a complete capitulation, and they can’t do that, they have to stand firm,” said Martin, the tea party leader.

Obamacare is costing jobs, cutting access to health care and frightening millions of people around the country, she said. “If you do the right thing for the country, you win elections,” she predicted.

Promises of action after the 2014 mid-term elections can’t compensate for inaction now, she said. “If [Boehner] caves right now without doing anything meaningful about Obamacare, why should we trust him later?” she said.

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