Biden on Capitol Hill to take part in budget talks

Vice President Joe Biden arrived on Capitol Hill on Wednesday evening as budget negotiators tried to settle on an estimated $23 billion in reductions for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, a Democratic aide said.

Republicans said no final number had been agreed upon, dismissing Democratic suggestions that talks were narrowing to a middle ground. They pressed Democrats to present their offer.

Biden, along with White House budget director Jack Lew, have served as the administration’s lead liaisons to Capitol Hill as lawmakers face a April 8 deadline to pass a budget and avoid a government shutdown. They were meeting behind closed doors with top Democratic leaders in the Senate.

On Wednesday, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) demanded the Senate, controlled by Democrats, pass its own budget plan so negotiations could press on. The Democrats and the White House say progress is being made.


“We believe that there is ample reason to be optimistic that common ground can be found as long as all sides roll up their sleeves and get to work,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at an afternoon briefing with reporters. “The differences that separate us are not so great that we cannot find a common ground in a way that each side can feel that it accomplished something in getting it done.”

Biden spoke with Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday, Carney said.

Democrats say they have proposed $20 billion in cuts over the remainder of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, but maintain that Republicans are being pressured by “tea party” conservatives to hold out for steeper cuts. Coupled with $10 billion in cuts already passed into law, Democrats say they are meeting Republicans halfway.

Talks broke down last week, but negotiators for Reid and Boehner have continued discussions. They resumed more formal talks Tuesday night.

A Boehner spokesman said no final number had been reached.

“There have been discussion for weeks, and those discussions are continuing,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. “There’s no agreement, and nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to.”