The deja vu nature of the negotiations raises the distinct possibility that the government could shut down after the April 8 expiration of the current stopgap spending measure. Congress could also pass a seventh temporary extension since the end of the fiscal year on September 30, but lawmakers' appetites for them appear to have run out.
A congressional aide briefed on negotiations said Monday that Republicans had -- at one point -- agreed to work on a deal with the White House that would cap discretionary spending for fiscal 2011 at $1.055 trillion, which is $35 billion less than the fiscal 2010 level and $74 billion less than what was requested by President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget.
But the aide said the GOP pulled back from that agreement last week after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., warned House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, that the deal would trigger a revolt from tea party conservatives.
That agreement had come after Republicans rejected a Democratic offer with $11 billion in total cuts. Republicans had been pushing for $61 billion in cuts over seven months, which amounts to $100 billion in cuts compared to Obama's fiscal 2011 budget. The House passed the GOP proposal in February.
Negotiators included staff from the offices of Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.
But, "They pulled the rug out," the congressional aide said of that agreement last week. "They brought the negotiations back to square one, after the speaker indicated he could agree to a figure that was about half-way between," the aide said.
An additional conflict came over including some cuts to mandatory spending, which Democrats said Republicans have resisted. Aides in both parties said talks between Reid's and Boehner's staffs continue, but that no conversations involving the White House are currently set.
The scenario is similar to one that played out in early February, when House Republican leaders were forced to add more cuts to a continuing resolution written by the House Appropriations Committee and set by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that would have also capped discretionary spending at $1.055 trillion.
House GOP aides disputed that characterization of the talks. "Not true," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, when he was pressed for a response on Monday. Steel added that the talks are continuing, and that, "No agreement will be made or announced until all of the outstanding issues -- including funding limitations -- are settled."
"At this point, the House has done its work by passing a bill, and the Democrats who run Washington have not," said Steel. "No spin can change that fact."
Another Republican congressional aide said that "candid conversations" among the GOP leaders about strategy are ongoing, amid the continued talks with Democrats. But the aide said those GOP conversations should not be portrayed or misconstrued as signs of internal division, but rather "honest and open conversations about how we can best proceed."
Against this backdrop Monday, one of the nation's largest tea party groups -- the Tea Party Patriots -- announced details of their planned "Continuing Revolution" rally near the Capitol this Thursday.
The event is being described as an effort to underscore the growing impatience with Republicans, in particular, for not taking a tougher stand on the Washington spending standoff.
In a sign of what Boehner is facing, Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Reps. Mike Pence, R-Ind., Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Steve King, R-Iowa, Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Tom Graves, R-Ga., are to be among the speakers at the rally, held at the Robert A. Taft Memorial, west of the upper Senate Park.
Andrew Langer, president of the Institute for Liberty; Colin Hanna, founder of Let Freedom Ring; and Dick Morris are also listed as speakers.
"Our country is in critical financial despair, our economy is stuck in recession, and all Americans are feeling the effects. Meanwhile, it's business as usual in Washington. They are continuing their resolutions, which don't seem to be resolving much of anything," an alert for the rally states.