Washington (CNN) – Bipartisan talks to end the budget crisis, which stalled last week, appeared to grind to a near standstill Monday, raising concerns on both sides of the political aisle that large parts of the government could shut down when the current spending measure expires at the end of next week.
"Republicans refuse to negotiate on a final number," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor. "The infighting between the tea party and the rest of the Republican Party – including the Republican leadership in Congress – is keeping our negotiating partner from the negotiating table."
House Republican Leader Eric Cantor denied the talks might collapse because of disagreements between the GOP leadership and the conservative wing of their caucus. Instead, he blamed Reid for "abandoning his responsibility to offer a credible plan to cut spending and fund the government for the rest of the year."
Democrats Monday said they were prepared to split the difference with Republicans who want a total of $61 billion cut from current spending levels. Two senior Democratic aides said their party is prepared to offer $30 billion in spending cuts. $10 billion in cuts have already been adopted as part of temporary spending bills which are keeping the government running. And Democrats said they were ready to propose an additional $20 billion.
But a senior House GOP source said Republican leaders don't believe they can convince rank-and-file conservatives to accept less than $40 billion in cuts.
Another critical factor in negotiations, beyond how many dollars will be cut, is major policy differences that sharply divide the parties – specifically the House GOP push to eliminate funding for the health care law and federal money for Planned Parenthood because of its abortion coverage. Democratic and Republican sources say GOP negotiators are demanding that those provisions stay in. House GOP sources say they may be able to sell less spending cuts to their caucus if they get some policy objectives, but Democratic sources call eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood and the Democrats' health care law "non-starters."
Despite the public acrimony, aides said there was communication between the two sides Monday and they expect talks to continue this week.
The standoff over funding for 2011 portends an even tougher fight ahead for the 2012 budget.
House Republicans are expected to unveil their proposal next week. They have vowed to include politically daring suggestions to rein in expensive entitlement programs – such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
To lay down a marker against cuts to Social Security, a group of liberal Democratic senators led by Reid, held a rally on Capitol Hill. They insisted the program – which pays benefits to older Americans, the disabled, and others – should not be included in talks to reform entitlements.
"Social Security has nothing to do with reducing the deficit," said Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota. "Social Security benefits should not be cut at all, for anyone, as part of efforts to reduce the deficit."
Several hundred activists cheered as the senators vowed to fight any efforts to cut benefits and raise the retirement age for beneficiaries.