While Clock Ticks on Government Shutdown, Democrats and Republicans Play Chicken

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Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The third attempt in 24 hours to end the budget standoff failed to produce a deal last night. After an hour-long meeting, John Boehner and Harry Reid slipped out the back instead of talking to reporters. With less than a day until a government shutdown that could derail the economic recovery, the two issued a rare joint statement, saying:

“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 said he was "not yet prepared to express wild optimism" about the chances of avoiding a shutdown, adding, "There are still a few issues that are outstanding. They are difficult issues. They are important to both sides."

By narrowing the issues, Boehner and Reid mean that they're close on total spending cuts, which look to be somewhere around $35 billion. What's left to argue are some very small, contentious, non-budget-related items — in some cases driven by lobbyists. Policy riders over federal funding for Planned Parenthood or a rider barring D.C. from using its own money to fund abortion for low-income women may be small in a national context, but the distance between the two parties is huge. Likewise, heath-care riders, which Eli Lehrer at FrumForum says "offer so little wiggle room that President Obama can’t, as a political matter, agree to even a single one of them as written." Riders related to the environment are broad attempts to undo nearly every climate-change program and look like they were "written almost entirely by specific industry lobbyists who have good relationships with certain members of Congress."

Ezra Klein says it's clear that Reid and Boehner want to come to an agreement, but for Republicans, the inability to back down might be about people outside the negotiating room. Democrats have already gone further than the $32 billion in budget cuts and look unlikely to move further. "But so far as the Tea Party is concerned," says Klein, "Boehner still has not taken them far enough."

White House Meeting on Budget Fails to End Impasse [NYT]
Lobbyists Drive the Shutdown [FrumForum]
Wonkbook: How small differences could lead to a shutdown [Wonkbook/WP]