Friday, April 8, 2011

As U.S Govt. Shutdown Looms Harry Reid Says Main Hang Up On Budget Is Over Abortions

Washington (CNN) -- Top Democrats and Republicans raced against the clock Friday to avoid a partial government shutdown, negotiating behind closed doors while publicly trading accusations about the cause of the standoff.

Democrats said Republicans were hung up on abortion and other issues relating to women's health. Republicans insisted the size of spending reductions were still the main cause of the dispute.

If Congress and the White House fail to reach an agreement by midnight, when the current spending authorization measure expires, parts of the government will close down.

That means 800,000 government workers will be furloughed and a range of government services will halt, though essential services such as law enforcement will continue to function.

President Barack Obama discussed the issue over the phone Friday morning with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Reid indicated earlier in the day that abortion is the lone remaining stumbling block for negotiators.

"This all deals with women's health. Everything (else) has been resolved. Everything," Reid said. "It's an ideological battle. It has nothing to do with fiscal integrity in this country."

Republicans have been pushing to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood during the budget talks. They are also trying to get federal dollars now set aside for family planning and women's health turned into block grants for states, according to a Democratic source.

Such a move -- opposed by Democrats, according to the source -- would give governors and state legislatures more ability to cut funding for services opposed by conservatives.

Boehner immediately disputed Reid's assertion that abortion is the key sticking point.

"There's only one reason that we do not have an agreement as yet, and that issue is spending," the speaker said.

Reid insisted that negotiators have already agreed on a $38 billion cut from current spending levels for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30.

"The speaker is the one who came up with the number," Reid insisted. "We didn't invent it."

Despite the differences, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, insisted a deal could be hammered together. "A resolution is within reach," he said. "The contours of a final agreement are coming into focus."

Reid told reporters he would try to push a one-week funding extension through the Senate in order to give negotiators more time. Such a move, however, would require the agreement of every senator -- something Reid is unlikely to get.

The GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed its own version of a one-week extension on Thursday. That measure, which passed 247-181 in a largely party-line vote, would fund the Pentagon for the remainder of the current fiscal year. But it also would slash federal spending by another $12 billion and included so-called "policy riders" that stipulate political and ideological restrictions, such as no government funding for Planned Parenthood.

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