Spending or abortion? Leaders wrangle over message as government shutdown looms

(Image: Flickr/Creative Commons/Colman)

Image by Matt MahurinUPDATE, 11:22 a.m. EST

As the federal government nears a shutdown, scheduled to begin in just over 10 hours, latest reports on negotiations between the House and Senate, led by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), respectively, posit that the two sides are close on a dollar amount to cut from the 2011 budget — about $5 billion, according to the Washington Post.

But the other main issue holding up an agreement are “riders” — used by Congress to change policy in a budget bill without going through committee channels — to the bill, including one to defund Planned Parenthood and strip all Title X funding, which provides for family planning and related preventive health services.

So while Reid and Senate Democrats want to lose the riders and claim the GOP is using the budget to hammer away at long-fought ideological battles, House Republicans aren’t budging, as Boehner insists the two sides are haggling mainly over the amount of money to cut, not social issues.

Brian Beutler at TPM with the latest:

Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans to avoid a government shutdown ended for the night a few hours ago without a breakthrough. Still bedeviling the talks is the issue of abortion. Republicans want a bill to fund the government for six months to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and Democrats won’t allow it. But according to Republicans, there may be some flexibility on the riders if Democrats would pony up a few billion dollars more in cuts — and, according to one top Republican aide, they’ve drawn the line at $34.5 billion in cuts to current spending.

That’s at least in part because of the composition of the cuts. Republicans propose giving the Pentagon $2 billion more than Defense Secretary Robert Gates has requested. That additional spending puts additional pressure on domestic discretionary programs, which are taking the brunt of the cuts.

Late last night, after a White House meeting with President Obama and key aides, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released a joint statement signaling progress. A Democratic source briefed on negotiations said the two were very close to agreement.

Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim takes a closer look at the fight over social issues and points to older, more experienced Republicans as the ones pushing for keeping the riders, not freshmen GOPers associated with the tea party.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the number-two Democrat in the upper chamber, said that Boehner was under pressure on social issues not from the Tea Party, but from senior Republicans. “It’s not about reducing the deficit. It’s about hitting programs. He’s gotta cut programs. And we think still we can reach agreement on the money. But he is under enormous pressure and he says it’s not from the Tea Party, it’s from the old guard, the Republican guard, that wants to once and for all show that they can force through some of these social issues, like abortion,” Durbin told reporters Thursday evening in the Capitol. “The rider list gets longer and longer and non-negotiable.”

A GOP aide confirmed Durbin’s claim that it’s the senior members who are insisting on riders. Polls show that the public is likely to blame the Tea Party for any shutdown, but ironically, most new members are more passionate about spending than social issues. Yet the public is likely to conflate the Tea Party with the culture wars if the government ultimately shuts down due to a dispute over funding for family planning.

“It’s mostly a few older members who have seen an opportunity,” said the GOP aide. “If you were to ask the freshmen individually, only a few would say this is all about the riders. And even amongst that smaller group, they would be split,” with some focused on the EPA and others on restricting funds for health care.

“The true Tea Party guys in our conference are all about spending. That’s it. Whatever the final deal is — even if we got [the National Right to Life Committee] to score it — we’d lose some guys because it didn’t meet the full $100 billion,” the aide added.

HuffPost spoke to a number of GOP freshmen, many of whom said they were more committed to funding cuts than policy riders. Although most voted for Republican-sponsored policy riders, some said they were willing to compromise as long as the final figure for cuts was large enough.

Negotiations will continue throughout today. Speaker Boehner is scheduled to brief reporters on the latest developments from his perspective at approximately 10:30 a.m. EST.

Update: Here’s a link to video of Boehner’s brief remarks.