White House agrees to $6B more in budget cuts - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

White House agrees to $6B more in budget cuts

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President Barack Obama signs the two-week funding bill averting a government shutdown in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 2, 2011. President Barack Obama signs the two-week funding bill averting a government shutdown in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 2, 2011.

WASHINGTON (AP) — With only two weeks to cut a deal, the White House proposed more than $6 billion in spending cuts Thursday as part of its opening bid in negotiations with congressional Republicans over how to keep the government operating through Sept. 30 and avoid a shutdown.

White House economic adviser Gene Sperling did not specify where the cuts would be made, but the figure set the stage for fresh talks Thursday between Vice President Joe Biden, White House budget officials and the bipartisan leadership of Congress. The meeting lasted more than an hour and the participants had little to say to reporters afterward.

House Republicans want to cut $61 billion from current fiscal year spending. Sperling says the $6 billion would be in addition to the $4 billion already cut in a stop-gap spending measure that expires March 18.

"We're willing to cut further if we can find common ground on a budget that we think reduces spending in the right way while protecting our investments in education, innovation and research," Sperling said.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, Brendan Buck, dismissed the White House number as "little more than the status quo."

Thursday's afternoon meeting comes a day after Obama signed the two-week, temporary spending bill and warned that it would be irresponsible for lawmakers to create the threat of a government shutdown every few weeks.

The session also marks a new degree of involvement by the White House, which had let the debate over spending play out in Congress with little intervention. The hands off approach frustrated some Democrats who insisted this week that Obama needed to become more engaged.

White House chief of staff William Daley and budget director Jacob Lew met separately with House Democratic leaders Wednesday. The White House said Daley and Lew would also attend the meeting with Biden.

Republicans who control the House muscled through a bill last month that could cut spending over the next seven months by more than $60 billion from last year's levels — and $100 billion from Obama's budget request. It would also block implementation of Obama's health care law and a host of environmental regulations. The Democratic-controlled Senate is resistant, and the White House has promised a veto if it does reach Obama. It could take weeks or months to negotiate a compromise funding measure that Obama would sign.

The GOP House measure blended dramatic cuts from almost every domestic agency. It also would block taxpayer money from going to public broadcasting and Planned Parenthood family planning efforts. Money for food inspection, college aid, grants to local schools and police and fire departments, clean water projects, job training and housing subsidies would be reduced.

Sperling, speaking to reporters at the White House ahead of the negotiating session with congressional leaders, repeatedly declined to identify where the $6 billion in proposed cuts would be made.

The $6 billion plus the $4 billion means the White House is supporting $10 billion in cuts relative to last year's budget. The White House and Capitol Hill Democrats argue that those aren't the only cuts they support, because they also have agreed to reduce Obama's budget request by more than $40 billion. Republicans seized control of the House last year after promising to cut $100 billion from Obama's request, a figure that's inflated because Obama's budget went nowhere in Congress.

But Democrats are seizing the standard used by Republicans last fall because it similarly inflates their claims about how much has been cut as the government runs on stopgap spending bills frozen at 2010 spending rates.

"Democrats stand ready to meet the Republicans halfway on this," said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "That would be fair. We have, I repeat, have cut $41 billion from President Obama's budget already. ... So we've already gone down that path."

That figure, however, does not include any of the $60 billion in real cuts that the Republican-controlled House passed last month.

"It seems that Harry Reid and the vice president have come forward with approximately $40 billion in cuts," said Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., speaking before Biden brought his proposal to the table. "That's the status quo."

Conceding there are different views of what constitutes a spending cut, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said: "While there may be some disputes in math, we remain optimistic we can get this done."

On the GOP side, the drive for cutting spending is based entirely on meeting the campaign promise. Boehner had earlier tried to sell a plan that would spread the cuts over a complete calendar year rather than cram them into the final few months of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. When he reversed course, the cuts relative to the 2010 budget leaped from $35 billion to $61 billion and included cuts in Head Start, special education and Pell Grants for low-income college students.

"You can't just pick a figure out of the air and just slash," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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