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Federal budget deadlock threatens Obama family's weekend vacation; more urgent talks today

April 8, 2011 |  3:32 am

john Boehner and Harry Reid discuss their Budget talks 4-7-11

Week One of President Obama's reelection campaign is sputtering to a close and it sounds like the carburetor needs a little work.

This president likes to talk about what he likes to talk about. For the first two years of his term every poll showed Americans wanted action, not talk, on jobs and the economy. So Obama had Joe "I've Been on the Public Payroll for Generations" Biden work on the economy, while the president talked healthcare. The president got what he wanted.

But Obama's strategy didn't work out too well for dozens of loyal Democrats who saw the public pinkslip coming or got unelected. So Republicans took back the House, where financial legislation originates.

The Ivy League geniuses in Obama's circle know that American voters, as simpleminded as they are, derive their general impression of a president and an economy from two numbers: the standard but misleading unemployment rate and the price of a gallon of gasoline.

Obama promised if we mortgaged the future on that shovel-ready economic stimulus bill....

...that official unemployment would not go above 8%. That didn't work out too well either, despite all of Joe's promises. At the moment the rate is 8.8% -- about half the actual unemployment counting folks who've given up. But 8.8 looks better than 10%.

Now, about gas. As our colleague Peter Nicholas points out, Obama 2012 is worried about the price of gas threatening a second coronation. So they built his first campaign week and a couple others around talking energy to death to show he is in touch.

All politicians call for all kinds of stuff all the time. Greater opportunities for women. Fewer highway fatalities. An end to fleas. Calling for something is free, sounds great and local media usually pass it on like robots. And, later, the pols can cite the call as proof of their caring and foresight, even though very little of these calls ever actually happen.Obama talks Budget d4-7-11

So, besides more college education and less schoolyard bullying, Obama has recently been calling for all kinds of swell-sounding energy stuff. Ten year plans. Twenty year plans. Solar power. Windmills. Clean coal (emphasis on first word). Maybe even more domestic oil, although Brazil's would be good too.

Obama talked it up Wednesday in Philadelphia. And he was set to do it again today out in Indianapolis. But in government there's this thing called a budget. It sets the spending levels and priorities, usually for a year at a time.

However, as much as it sounds like a Monty Python sketch, the federal government of the United States of America doesn't have a budget this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Last year's Democratic congressional majorities didn't get around to passing a budget. And the only thing a campaigning President Obama had time for was to call for one.

As the country's presumed chief executive, Obama took some heat Wednesday for partying in New York with Al Sharpton and calling for American superiority in a windmill race with China, while congressional leaders were stalemated over yet another short-term spending resolution. The current one expires tonight, threatening to close the federal government.

Which, come to think of it, would sure save a lot of money real quick and halt those bothersome IRS audits. But a suspended government would also stall all those treasured entitlement checks, not to mention the well-earned pay for the valiant volunteers in our military.

So, despite his personal proclivities for detachment, Obama had to get involved. He canceled his Indianapolis energy-talking trip to host bipartisan negotiations between Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Harry Reid.

Boehner, Reid and Obama all reported some progress after last evening's sessions (Scroll down for complete statements). Obama obtusely observed, "I’m not yet prepared to express wild optimism." A 3 a.m. meeting this morning didn't work either.

As Jay Leno said last night, "A lot of people are wondering what a government shutdown would be like. A lot more are wondering what a properly-running government would be like."

The budget-cutting issues are indeed difficult and any compromises will be well-remembered next year. But also remember, each side has militant constituencies closely watching. These party leaders could have been negotiating this stuff two weeks ago. But nothing says, "We squeezed out everything we possibly could" like a dramatic last-minute settlement that dominates the Sunday talk shows.

Think back to December, extending the Bush tax cuts and Obama's plaint over really not wanting tax breaks for the wealthy but, golly, GOP "hostage-takers" insisted and to keep the country moving, the earnest president reluctantly agreed. Now, it seems, those same tax cuts may provide the economic certainty that'll grow the economy sufficiently to save the ex-state senator's political bacon come the election.

The Libyan war didn't keep President Obama from touring South America with his extended family last month. But if these congressional clowns don't get something fiscal settled at this morning's gathering, the budget mess threatens to derail the planned Obama family vacation weekend in Williamsburg, Va.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Joint statement by House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Harry Reid

We have narrowed the issues, however, we have not yet reached an agreement. We will continue to work through the night to attempt to resolve our remaining differences.


President Obama statement on the budget talks, as provided by the White House

THE PRESIDENT:  I just completed another meeting with Speaker Boehner and Leader Reid, and I wanted to report again to the American people that we made some additional progress this evening. I think the staffs of both the House and the Senate, as well as the White House staff, have been working very hard to try to narrow the differences. 

We made some progress today. Those differences have been narrowed. And so once again the staff is going to be working tonight around the clock in order to see if we can finally close a deal. 

But there is still a few issues that are outstanding. They’re difficult issues. They’re important to both sides. And so I’m not yet prepared to express wild optimism. But I think we are further along today than we were yesterday.

I want to reiterate to people why this is so important. We’re now less than 30 hours away from....

White House Thursday Night

....the government shutting down. That means, first of all, 800,000 families -- our neighbors, our friends, who are working hard all across the country in a whole variety of functions -- they suddenly are not allowed to come to work.  It also means that they’re not getting a paycheck. That obviously has a tremendous impact. 

You then have millions more people who end up being impacted because they’re not getting the services from the federal government that are important to them.  So small businesses aren’t seeing their loans processed. Folks who want to get a mortgage through the FHA may not be able to get it, and obviously that’s not good as weak as this housing market is. 

You’ve got people who are trying to get a passport for a trip that they’ve been planning for a long time -- they may not be able to do that. So millions more people will be significantly inconvenienced; in some ways, they may end up actually seeing money lost or opportunities lost because of a government shutdown. 

And then finally, there’s going to be an effect on the economy overall. Earlier today one of our nation’s top economists said -- and I’m quoting here -- “The economic damage from a government shutdown would mount very quickly. And the longer it dragged on, the greater the odds of a renewed recession.”

We’ve been working very hard over the last two years to get this economy back on its feet. We’ve now seen 13 months of job growth; a hundred -- 1.8 million new jobs. We had the best report, jobs report, that we’d seen in a very long time just this past Friday. For us to go backwards because Washington couldn’t get its act together is unacceptable.

So, again:  800,000 federal workers and their families impacted; millions of people who are reliant on government services not getting those services -- businesses, farmers, veterans; and finally, overall impact on the economy that could end up severely hampering our recovery and our ability to put people back to work.

That’s what’s at stake.That’s why it’s important to the American people. That’s why I’m expecting that as a consequence of the good work that’s done by our staffs tonight, that we can reach an agreement tomorrow. 

But let me just point out one last thing. What I’ve said to the Speaker and what I’ve said to Harry Reid is because the machinery of the shutdown is necessarily starting to move, I expect an answer in the morning. And my hope is, is that I’ll be able to announce to the American people sometime relatively early in the day that a shutdown has been averted, that a deal has been completed that has very meaningful cuts in a wide variety of categories, that helps us move in the direction of living within our means, but preserves our investments in things like education and innovation, research, that are going to be important for our long-term competitiveness. 

That’s what I hope to be able to announce tomorrow. There’s no certainty yet, but I expect an answer sometime early in the day. All right. Thank you very much, everybody.    ####

Photos: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg News (Boehner and Reid); Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press; Jim Young / Reuters.