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Boehner won't commit to budget talks with Democrats

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 2, 2011.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
John Boehner
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Immediately after the Senate passed a short-term spending bill this morning to avert a government shutdown Saturday, President Obama invited Senate Democrats to sit down with House Republicans and Vice President Biden to hammer out a longer-term compromise.

If the two parties cannot reach an agreement by March 18 on a spending bill to keep the government running through the end of the fiscal year in September, the threat of a government shutdown will return -- an outcome that all parties say they want to avoid.

"Living with the threat of a shutdown every few weeks is not responsible, and it puts our economic progress in jeopardy," Mr. Obama said in a statement. "That's why I'm calling on Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress to begin meeting immediately with the Vice President, my Chief of Staff, and Budget Director so we can find common ground on a budget that makes sure we are living within our means."

In a press conference right after the Senate vote, Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to the talks. He said there isn't time for other options.

"That's why we need to sit down in a room with the Administration there represented and the Republicans both in the House and Senate and work something out," Reid told reporters.

But the idea of negotiations was greeted coldly by House Speaker John Boehner, who said that the Senate must present some kind of proposal of their own. The House already passed its spending bill with $61 billion in spending cuts, but the Senate has not passed a long-term spending bill.

"I think it's important to make clear that we've been in discussions with Democrat colleagues for weeks," Boehner told reporters when asked if he would participate in the talks with the White House. "This isn't something new. And the House's position is we passed a bill. It's out there, and I think it's time for them to outline for us what's their position to keep the government funded. We've done our work in the House."

Reporters pressed Boehner on whether he was saying that he would not participate in the talks with Biden. He would not answer yes or no. His response was that "the House has a position -- where's the Senate Democrat position? I have no idea what it is. How do you start a conversation where one house has spoken and the other hasn't? So, where's the starting point?"

An aide to Boehner did not clear things up either, indicating that they needed to know what the boundaries of the discussions would be before going to the table. The aide also said Boehner had not been invited to anything official yet by the White House. A Republican Appropriations Committee aide said the same.

As for the GOP spending bill that passed over a week ago with $61 billion in spending cuts and numerous policy riders on issues ranging from abortion funding to health care, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated the president's veto threat today during the White House press briefing. Meaning that while House Republicans may want their bill to be the starting point of negotiations, it is unlikely. Despite the reluctance on Boehner's part, Carney said he expects talks to begin "soon."

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    Jill Jackson is a CBS News senior political producer.