As negotiators press to close a budget deal by the end of the day, differences between the two sides have narrowed down to between $50 billion and $100 billion, with the major stumbling block remaining the level of discretionary spending, Senate Majority Leader Lott said today.
"I still think we're very close," Lott told reporters.
And House Budget Chairman Kasich -- who has been among the more pessimistic negotiators -- said: "For the first time, I can tell you I can see the top of the mountain. Frankly, we'd like to see if we can get this done today." Kasich added, however, that a "couple of really big fundamental differences" remain.
Lott said Democrats are continuing to push for more discretionary spending than Republicans want. He said the two sides are getting closer on the size of a tax cut. White House officials Tuesday night told Democrats the Republicans want a net tax cut of $100 billion.
Kasich briefed House Republicans on the budget talks this morning. After that meeting, Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Md., said it appears Republicans are "getting a lot of what we want."
Ehrlich, a Budget Committee member, said the deal would include significant entitlement reform and an acceptable estate and capital gains tax cut. But he said the question is how much domestic spending the White House will demand in exchange for those concessions.
"If there's a lot more domestic discretionary spending, it's going to be tough to sell it to the [Republican] Conference," he said.
Lott and Kasich also tried to lower expectations. "It won't be a perfect agreement from any viewpoint," Lott said.
And Kasich said, "It's not the program I would write."
In case the talks fold, House Budget Committee Republicans are prepared to meet Thursday to try to put the finishing touches on a budget plan the committee could mark up next week.
Meanwhile, Democrats continue to be disturbed about several issues. Many House Democrats Tuesday attacked the administration for negotiating while the GOP has yet to develop a budget.
"The Democrats want the president to negotiate," House Minority Leader Gephardt said today, adding, "We have a disagreement on timing."
Gephardt said many Democrats would "rather that the process go its normal route."
In the Senate, Labor and Human Resources Committee Democrats sent President Clinton a letter urging him to protect education funding levels. And Senate Minority Leader Daschle warned if Clinton is forced to veto the supplemental spending bill because it contains a permanent continuing resolution, it could deal a "death blow" to the budget talks.
"If this goes through, it would be virtually impossible" for Democrats to support a budget deal, Daschle said of the continuing resolution.