WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joseph Biden is meeting with Senate Democratic leadership Wednesday night in an effort to get officials on the same page concerning budget negotiations and plot out the next, crucial steps in talks with House Republicans.
The Vice President’s visit comes as a once dire-looking outlook over the state of funding discussions has turned a bit brighter. Democratic aides on Capitol Hill say that the two political parties now only stand a mere $6 billion apart on the size of spending cuts they will support and have an informal process in place to close that gap
According to a top Senate Democratic aide, the party has submitted a plan to House GOP leadership identifying an additional $20 billion in cuts it is willing to make on top of the $10 billion in cuts it has already passed in the form of stop-gap funding measures. The breakdown of the cuts is roughly 75 percent discretionary spending and 25 percent mandatory spending, mainly from Medicare subsidies.
The party is now awaiting a similar proposal from House Republicans that would pinpoint $36 billion in cuts that they prefer. “At the point that these are ready” the aide said, “the appropriations committee staff from the [Republican] House and the [Democratic] Senate would then take the two offers and mesh them such that a little was taken from a, a bit from b, and the final top-line number was somewhere in between.” The end amount will be roughly around the $32 billion in cuts that House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) initially proposed in his continuing resolution.
Biden, the aide added, had been “helping to reach this understanding with phone calls to the GOP side.”
That a rough roadmap for resolution of the funding difference had emerged certainly provides a more upbeat backdrop than other recent reports, which had negotiations between the parties essentially dissolved. But while “all parties were now back at the table" -- as another Senate aide put it -- resolution still remains far off.
For starters, the first Senate aide relayed that the party has not yet received a proposal from House Republicans detailing their $36 billion in cuts. With Tea Party protesters descending upon the Hill, the concern among Democrats is that the longer Boehner takes to submit a draft to Democrats, the more likely it is that he will be pressured to push for the full slate of cuts (all $60 billion).
Even if that plan is submitted -- and, theoretically, a middle ground is found -- another obstacle remains: the host of policy riders that were attached the House GOP’s funding proposal.
House Republican aides have insisted that they won’t back a bill that is wiped clean of all of their policy declarations, such as defunding Planned Parenthood, restricting the amount of money used to implement health care reform, and stripping the Environmental Protection Agency’s capacity to regulate power plants.
Democratic officials have agreed to keep some of the riders in the bill, but not the bigger, more controversial items.
What qualifies as a major or minor rider isn’t entirely clear. On the Hill, several Democrats fretted that language regarding Planned Parenthood and health care reform wouldn’t be in the final product but that the EPA language might. The aforementioned Senate aide, however, insisted that “the White House wouldn’t stomach that.”
UPDATE: After the meeting with Senate Democratic leadership, Vice President Biden confirmed that the White House was committed to offering $30 billion in cuts in an effort to forge a deal with Republicans.
“The main reason to be here today is to make sure that Democrats in the Senate and the president are on the same page,” Biden told reporters. “We’re on the same page.”
Behind closed doors, that number appears likely to be closer to $33 billion. The additional $3 billion, pushed privately by the White House, brings the compromise to the mid-point between the respective Democratic and Republican proposals. But it’s not entirely clear whether GOP leadership will end up satisfied. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told POLITICO: “There is no agreement on a number for the spending cuts… Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”