The Numbers Game: Democrats Embrace $33 Billion In Budget Cuts, Republicans Say ‘No Deal’

Apr 1, 2011 4:47pm

ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:

Democrats and Republicans are running in two different directions when it comes to the $33 billion figure that forms the basis for the ongoing negotiations on Capitol Hill about how much to trim from the federal budget this fiscal year.

“As I said yesterday, there is no number, there is no agreement on a number,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters on Friday. “We’re going to fight for the largest spending cuts that we can get. And I’m hopeful that we’ll get it as soon as possible.”

But on Wednesday no less an authority than Vice President Joe Biden, who has been involved in the negotiations, said that two sides had agreed to that figure.

“We’re all working off the same number now,” Biden told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday evening. “Obviously, there’s a difference in the composition of that number — what’s included, what’s not included. It’s going to be a thorough negotiation.”

Biden did caution, however, that “there’s no deal until there’s a total deal.”

And here’s how Sen. Dick Durbin characterized the situation on Friday:  “We're calling on Speaker Boehner to sit down and in good faith work with us. We’ve agreed on the number.”

ABC's Matthew Jaffe noted that Boehner did, indeed, make the very same point on Thursday, saying "there’s no agreement on numbers." But not long before, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had a different take: "Democrats and Republicans have agreed upon a number on which to base our budget cuts."

Sources familiar with the talks say that the $33 billion figure was, in fact, reached to by both sides but only as a basis for the still ongoing negotiations. In order for them to begin the process of trimming from departments and programs they needed a starting point.

The final number, sources say, is likely to be different — possibly very different — depending on how the parties work through the policy issues.

Boehner is under pressure from conservative and Tea Party affiliated members to cut even more. Last month the House approved a proposal to cut $61 billion from the budget during the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 31. If the two sides do not reach an agreement by April 8, they once again risk a government shutdown.

President Obama said on Friday that it would be he “height of irresponsibility” to shut down the government.

“If these budget negotiations break down, we could end up having to shut down the government just at a time when the economy's starting to recover,” Obama said. “That could — that could jeopardize the economic recovery.”

ABC News’ John R. Parkinson, Matthew Jaffe, Jon D. Garcia and Sunlen Miller contributed reporting to this post.

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