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Budget impasse continues

Budget impasse continues

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WASHINGTON • President Barack Obama on Tuesday dismissed a short-term Republican plan to keep the federal government operating past Friday as House Speaker John Boehner sought deeper spending cuts, putting Congress and the White House on a course toward a government shutdown.

Showing some exasperation at the impasse over this year's budget, Obama appeared at an impromptu White House news conference and said it would be inexcusable if federal agencies were forced to shut their doors beginning Saturday because House Republicans and Senate Democrats could not bridge differences over a relatively small budget slice.

"As I've said before, we have now matched the number that the speaker originally sought," the president said. "The only question is whether politics or ideology are going to get in the way of preventing a government shutdown."

Appearing before television cameras in the Capitol shortly after the president spoke, Boehner seemed equally determined not to give ground.

The speaker, who faces intense pressure from his conservative rank-and-file, said he intended to push for the greatest spending cuts achievable and would not be maneuvered by Democrats into settling for less.

"We are not going to allow the Senate nor the White House to put us in a box," Boehner said.

The dueling statements followed a White House meeting that produced no compromise after Boehner upped the ante in the spending fight, suggesting that $40 billion in cuts could be palatable to House Republicans, an amount $7 billion larger than the target number that Democratic lawmakers and the White House had believed was the goal of the negotiations.

After their session at the White House, Boehner, of Ohio, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, gathered for a second meeting in Boehner's suite of offices in the Capitol. Aides described it as productive but provided no details beyond saying the two lawmakers would be consulting again on budget issues.

The bargaining, coming as executive branch agencies took precautionary steps in preparation for closing down after midnight Friday, demonstrated how crucially both sides view the outcome of this budget fight in shaping the ground rules for larger struggles to come over fiscal issues.

Obama said part of his mounting frustration over the current budget fight was that it dealt with just a fraction of federal spending and was coming when the fiscal year was already half over.

The president said he would not accept the latest Republican proposal for yet another stopgap funding measure, one that would require cutting $12 billion in spending in exchange for financing the government another week while negotiations continued.

"That is not a way to run a government," said Obama, who said he was willing to consider a short extension if Congress needed time to draft an agreed-upon compromise. "I can't have our agencies making plans based on two-week budgets."

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