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Obama’s comments set the stage for an attempt to blame Republicans should congressional negotiations collapse and the U.S. government run out of cash when a short-term measure expires on April 8.
“We know that a compromise is within reach. And we also know that if these budget negotiations break down, it could shut down the government and jeopardize our economic recovery,” Obama said at a UPS shipping facility in Landover, Maryland.
Obama weighed in at a sensitive time in the negotiations.
The talks could still fall apart, but neither party is eager to cause a government shutdown that could lead to thousands of layoffs when voters are nervous about the shaky economic recovery and rising gas prices brought on by unrest in the Middle East.
Both sides are believed to have tentatively agreed to $33 billion in cuts but are haggling over where the budget knife should fall.
A $33 billion cut would represent a big victory for Republicans, as Obama had initially proposed a budget that would have increased spending by $41 billion but was never enacted.
But newly elected Tea Party conservatives in the House of Representatives want deeper cuts, presenting a challenge to House Speaker John Boehner.
And this is just for the budget for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. A bigger battle may be looming for the 2012 fiscal budget with many lawmakers wanting to tackle big-ticket items like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Boehner said on Friday that a shutdown would undermine Republican goals to cut government spending and that he is not preparing for a shutdown.
“Let’s all be honest, if you shut the government down, it’ll end up costing more than you save because you interrupt contracts. There are a lot of problems with the idea of shutting the government. It is not the goal. The goal is to cut spending,” Boehner told a news conference.
On Friday, several House Republicans said they would resist meeting Democrats in the middle on the size of the cut as they stood on the steps of the Senate. They want to stick to $61 billion in cuts that have already passed the House.
“Anything less than $61 billion is an insult to the problem,” said Republican Representative Paul Broun.
Congressional Democrats who saw Republicans punished by voters after a 1995 shutdown when Democrat Bill Clinton was president are eager to place the blame on Republicans this year.
Until Friday, Obama had largely resisted weighing in on the battle.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama chose to do so because a Labor Department report showed a slight decline in the U.S. jobless rate to 8.8 percent and he felt it important to comment on the possibility of a shutdown that he believes could hinder the fragile recovery.
Carney said Obama agrees on the need to cut spending and the $1.4 trillion deficit but wants to do it in a responsible way that protects spending for education, infrastructure and research and development.
He said the two sides appeared to be only a few billion dollars apart.
Democratic and Republican staffers were expected to work through the weekend to lay the legislative groundwork for the deal.