The Associated Press March 31, 2011, 3:20PM ET

Boehner signals compromise in budget talks

House Speaker John Boehner signaled Thursday that a compromise is coming with Democrats on immediate cuts in government spending, noting that Democrats control the White House and the other half of Congress. Boehner said Republicans are fighting for the biggest spending cuts they can get.

Boehner said there's no agreement yet on how much he and Democrats are willing to compromise in cutting the day-to-day budgets of federal agencies over the coming six months. The GOP House has voted to cut more than $60 billion from this year's budget, and Democrats have been moving steadily in his direction.

The Ohio Republican has agreed to discuss a compromise in the $33 billion range, which would still be of historic magnitude.

"We are going to fight for all of the spending cuts that we can get," Boehner said. "We control one half of one third of the government here in Washington. We can't impose our will on another body. We can't impose our will on the Senate. All we can do is to fight for all of the spending cuts that we can get an agreement to."

The top congressional Republican spoke as negotiators continued to work on a proposal for around $33 billion in spending cuts over the next six months -- considerably less than tea party activists congregating Thursday for a rally near the Capitol have demanded. Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday evening that there's been "good progress" in budget talks to prevent a government shutdown.

The tentative split-the-difference plan would end up where GOP leaders started last month as they tried to fulfill a campaign pledge to return spending for agencies' daily operations to levels in place before President Barack Obama took office. That calculation takes into account the fact that the current budget year, which began Oct. 1, is about half over.

The $33 billion figure, confirmed by Biden, is well below the $60 billion-plus in cuts that the House passed last month. But it still represents significant movement by Senate Democrats and the administration after originally backing a freeze at current rates.

"There's no reason why, with all that's going on in the world and with the state of the economy, that we can't avoid a government shutdown," Biden told reporters after a meeting in the Capitol with Senate Democratic leaders.

Under Biden's math, the White House is conceding $73 billion in cuts from Obama's requests, which contained increases never approved by Congress. Republicans originally wanted $100 billion in cuts using the same gauge.

Some tea party-backed GOP lawmakers want the original $100 billion in cuts. With a tea party rally set for Thursday on Capitol Hill, it's unclear how many of the 87 freshmen Republicans elected last fall could live with the arrangement between top Democrats and Boehner, who plans to meet with freshman GOP lawmakers.

Both sides said the figure under consideration is tentative at best and depends on the outcome of numerous policy stands written into the bill. Boehner said "there is no agreement on numbers. Nothing will be agreed to until everything is agreed to."

Some conservatives appear insistent on the full range of spending cuts, but others recognize that compromise is required to win Obama's signature and support from Democrats who control the Senate.

Far bigger fights are ahead on a longer-term GOP budget plan that takes a more comprehensive approach to the budget woes. Also looming is a must-pass bill to allow the government to borrow more money to meet its commitments. Republicans hope to use that measure to force further spending cuts on the president.

"I don't believe that shutting down government is a solution to the problem. Republicans and Democrats need to work out a compromise," said Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H. "Let's get this over with and get on to the budget."

But Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who earlier warned that "It's time to pick a fight," wants party leaders to hang tough.

The legislation would bankroll the day-to-day operating budgets of federal agencies -- including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- through Sept. 30, the end of the current budget year.

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Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.


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