Washington (CNN) –- Vice President Joe Biden announced late Wednesday that House and Senate bipartisan negotiators had agreed to a spending-cut target of $73 billion in 2011 budget talks aimed at heading off a government shutdown before next week, when a temporary bill keeping the government operating runs out.
Congress has been passing a series of short term spending resolutions since October 1, when the 2011 fiscal year began.
‘We’re all working off the same number now - $73 billion,” Biden said, emerging from a lengthy meeting with Senate Democratic leaders in the Capitol. “Obviously, there’s a difference in the composition of that number. What’s included, what’s not included. It’s gong to be a thorough negotiation.”
Biden said he spoke with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and both men agreed the rest of the negotiations could be challenging in terms of reaching an agreement on what the make-up of the cuts will be and whether to include controversial policy restrictions in the bill.
“There’s no deal until there a total deal,” Biden said.
A spokesman for Boehner drove that point home.
“No, there is no deal until everything is settled –- spending cuts and policy restrictions.”
Nevertheless, reaching an agreement on the target spending-cut figure is a step forward in the negotiations, which have been marked by acrimony and public sniping between the Republicans who control the House and the Democrats who control the Senate. It remains unclear if Tea Party-backed conservatives, who have pressed hard for cuts much deeper that $73 billion, will go along with any agreement.
House Republicans originally wanted about $100 billion in cuts while Senate Democrats proposed $51 billion. Those figures are based on President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for 2011, which was never enacted.
The $73 billion means the two sides essentially decided to split the difference.
Why is this deal a critical milepost in the negotiations? Simple, yet complicated.
Republicans have a majority in the House and could probably vote out a more radical set of cuts. But without a compromise in the Senate, even if a proposal came to the floor, a filibuster could stop it dead in its tracks, since neither party can muster the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.
So, agreement among negotiators means that both sides, in both houses, may be able to make real progress in the nitty-gritty of exactly what programs get cut to get to that $73 billion figure.