President Barack Obama signs the two-week funding bill averting a government shutdown. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
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.
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. The White House argues 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. That figure however, does not include any of the $60 billion in real cuts that the Republican controlled House passed last month.
Conceding the 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."