WASHINGTON -- As Congress goes down to the wire in talks to avoid a government shutdown, Sen. Harry Reid said Thursday morning that disputes over abortion and environmental issues are holding up a final deal.
Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, said "the numbers are basically there" as far as an agreement on spending cuts to be included in a bill to fund federal departments for the remainder for the fiscal year, through September. He did not give a number.
"The only thing holding up an agreement is ideology. The speaker and the Republican leadership have drawn a line in the sand" over riders dealing with abortion and clean air, Reid said, referring to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
"I repeat, the numbers are basically there but I am not as nearly as optimistic -- and that is an understatement -- as I was 11 hours ago," Reid said in Senate speech.
Reid gave his assessment after a Wednesday night meeting with Boehner and President Barack Obama at the White House.
Reid said staffs continued to work through the night and that Obama called him and Boehner separately Thursday morning. The White House announced congressional leaders are being called to another meeting with Obama and with Vice President Joe Biden Thursday afternoon.
"The numbers are extremely close," Reid said. "Our differences are no longer how much savings we get. The only thing holding up an agreement are ideology.
"If this government shuts down, and it looks like it is headed in that direction, it is going to be based on my friends in the House of Representatives, the leadership over there, focusing on ideological matters that have nothing to do with funding the government."
Republicans included a number of controversial policy changes as riders to a spending bill they passed six weeks ago. Several of them restrict the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases.
The Republican legislation also defunds Planned Parenthood. Another GOP proposal would bar the District of Columbia, which draws funding from the federal government from spending its own money to provide abortions to low-income women.
Reid said Republicans "want to roll back the Clean Air Act." On abortion, he said, "we can't solve in one night a disagreement the country has been fighting over for four decades."
"It is not realistic to shut down the government on a debate dealing with abortion," he said.
Boehner has scheduled a vote in the House for Thursday, calling for another one-week extension in temporary funding to keep the government open while talks continue.
Reid called that "a nonstarter."
"There are no more short-term extensions," Reid said, except one to allow lawmakers a few days to wrap up paperwork on a final agreement.
"It is not only bad policy, it is a fantasy. We cannot continue funding this government one paycheck to the next."
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.