White House agrees to $6.5B more in budget cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House called for $6.5 billion in immediate spending cuts Thursday as negotiations opened with tea party-backed Republicans in Congress seeking reductions nearly 10 times as large in their drive to reduce the size of federal government.

“The conversation will continue,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a one-sentence statement after an hour-long meeting with Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio and other top congressional leaders in the Capitol.

The talks, in Biden’s private office just off the Senate floor, marked the beginning of an attempt by the White House and top lawmakers to agree on legislation to cut spending and avert a partial government shutdown when current funding authority expires on March 18.

White House economic adviser Gene Sperling did not specify where the cuts would be made, but the figure set the stage for the talks. House Republicans want to cut $61 billion from current fiscal year spending. Sperling says the $6.5 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 Boehner, Brendan Buck, dismissed the White House number as “little more than the status quo.”

Thursday’s meeting came 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.

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.

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