President Obama is threatening to veto a temporary Republican budget measure that would ensure the troops are paid through September and keep the government running for another week, but would not resolve the bitter standoff between Democrats and Republicans.
"This bill is a distraction from the real work that would bring us closer to a reasonable compromise for funding the remainder of fiscal year 2011 and avert a disruptive federal government shutdown that would put the nation's economic recovery in jeopardy," the White House said in a statement.
The president had said earlier this week he would not vote for the temporary extension, which includes $12 billion in spending cuts, unless there were hints of a progress in negotiations on a final bill.
Democrats charge that the bill is merely a political cover.
"This is a very cynical ploy to use our troops to try to impose the Republican agenda through the budget process," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, shot back at the president and Democrats.
"Neither the president nor Senate Democrats have identified a single policy provision they find objectionable in the bill," he said in a statement. "The president and Democratic leaders have all committed to working with Republicans to cut spending. A bill that falls short of that commitment cannot pass the House."
One of the key negotiators in budget talks predicted today that the government is headed for a shutdown and expressed little optimism that a deal would be reached in time to avoid a paralyzing stalemate.
"The numbers are basically there," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said today. "But I am not as nearly as optimistic -- and that's an understatement -- as I was 11 hours ago. The numbers are extremely close."
Reid took to the Senate floor this morning to say the two sides have come to an agreement on spending cuts, but are still at odds over extraneous "ideological matters."
"If this government shuts down -- and it looks like it's headed in that direction -- it's going to be based on my friends in the House of Representatives," he said.
Reid is accusing Republicans of holding up a deal because they are insisting on keeping so-called "riders" -- amendments that passed in the House -- related to government funding for abortion and limiting the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to enforce restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. He additionally blamed the situation on "rambunctious" freshman Republicans in the House.
Boehner's aides insist they are still negotiating on numbers and "nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to."
"There's no agreement yet -- No agreement on the numbers, and no agreement on the policy issues that were moved through the House," Boehner said. "There are a number of issues on the table and any attempt to narrow it down to one or two would not be accurate."
Sources say spending cuts in the remainder of the fiscal 2011 budget now stand at $34.5 billion after Republicans agreed, late Wednesday, to $3 billion in cuts to the Pentagon's budget. For many Tea Party-backed lawmakers, that may not be enough. They've said they want to see at least $61 billion in cuts that was outlined in the original House bill. About $10 billion in spending has already been cut in temporary funding measures.
Reid and Boehner will meet with Obama again today, for the third time this week, to hash out a deal.