As 11th Hour Talks Begin, White House Insists a Shutdown Is Avoidable

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As budget talks between the President, Vice President and congressional leadership started at the White House just past 10 a.m. this morning, Press Secretary Jay Carney treated the press to an off-camera gaggle dominated by discussion of the budget.

Carney reiterated that by any measure, the White House believes Democrats have come “more than halfway” to meet the Republicans. (He even did a mathematical breakdown: If Dems start at $0 in cuts, Republicans at $100 billion and the Dems come to $73 billion — well, he implied, that’s just science.) And he continually insisted that “if everyone is reasonable” (read: Republicans), a budget for the remaining half of the fiscal year should be hammered out today and be ready before the government reaches the brink of shutting down.

When asked if the White House had indeed flat-out rejected another continuing resolution, which could keep the government open for one week if his optimism proves unfounded, Carney would neither confirm nor deny the claims from members of Congress that the White House is ready to play chicken on that front. He described the shutdown preparations that have already started, including the what-if instructions trickling down through agencies, as simply “going through the motions,” calling an emergency measure “not necessary and not acceptable” when there’s a more complete proposal on the table. Carney was essentially doing all he could to make the shutdown out to be the unlikeliest outcome.

Carney reiterated that the number for the cuts is agreed to; it’s just the composition of cuts that is causing the standstill. Republicans, he said, want to target programs like education, medical research and community health care centers, while Democrats want to take their hatchet to transportation earmarks and military spending. When pressed on whether there were places that the President simply would not compromise, Carney eventually agreed — in education, for example, he said the President would prove intractable.

Reporters also pressed Carney on why the President is making his involvement high-profile now, even if he’s had a hand in the budget process for some time. Carney refused to acknowledge that there was any 11th-hour change, reiterating that there’s been daily involvement for some time. Trying to express empathy with the American people, he ventured the politest of expletives. “It’s time to reach a deal,” Carney said. “Goodness gracious, we should be able to get this done.”