Top Democratic Aide Says Breakthrough Possible To Avert Government Shutdown

March 30, 2011 3:15 p.m.

A top Senate Democratic aide says there’s been a key thaw in discussions between Senate Dem leaders and House Republicans to avert a government shutdown.

The aide said Republican negotiators are once again willing to meet Democrats in the middle, to cut a bit over $30 billion from current spending — just about half the $61 billion House Republicans have proposed.

Crucially, the idea of drawing from mandatory spending areas — including the big entitlement programs — is back on the table, according to the aide.“Part of the thaw is that we think we can get some of the cuts we need to add up to this number from areas outside of discretionary,” the aide said.

Another source familiar with the discussions says, “The appropriations committees in the House and Senate have been tasked to work on a bill that achieves cuts betweenw 30 and 36 [billion dollars].”

“That’s just on [overall] spending cuts,” the second source added, “and they’ll have to hash out how much mandatory, how much discretionary.”

Details are scarce, because both sides still have to haggle over precise allocations, and the nature of the mandatory spending cuts — Dems would like to draw from Medicare subsidies, while Republicans may have other ideas. So this isn’t a grand bargain. But it’s light years ahead of where things looked early this week.

Vice President Joe Biden is currently meeting with Senate Democratic leadership to discuss the spending cut package.

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