Biden's Absence From Budget Talks Miffs GOP Negotiators


Tom Diemer

Where's Joe?

With Vice President Biden on a five-day swing through Russia, Finland and Moldova, House Republicans are pressing for more direct involvement by the White House in negotiations to close a $50 billion gap between what they want to trim from 2011 spending and what President Obama and Democrats have been willing to accept.

"The vice president is not even in the country today," complained House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). "We have less than a week to go [in the temporary budget]. . . . The vice president is the main negotiator." McCarthy referred to the latest in a series of stopgap budgets that have kept government functioning during a standoff over cuts meant to dent a looming $1.5 trillion deficit.

Obama picked Biden to lead a White House team in meetings with congressional leaders, hoping to find common ground on spending reductions through Sept. 30. The current budget -- called a continuing resolution -- expires on March 18, but McCarthy says another short-term plan will likely be required.

McCarthy was joined at a news conference Wednesday by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who said Obama himself should get involved in the talks. "Where's the president?" Cantor asked. "We continue to hear from him and the White House that we're going to meet you halfway."

Obama was in Boston Tuesday night, speaking at a Democratic fundraising event where he said the nation is "turning the corner" on the economy.

In the budget debate, Obama said, "there are going to be some things that we will not do because we think it is wrong for the country -- and we're going to have some big fights about it." But wherever possible, he added, "we're going to have to . . . try to build consensus and make decisions based not necessarily just on short-term politics but also on what's good for the country in the long term."

"We are engaged," White House Press Secretrary Jay Carney insisted Wednesday. "We don't read out [make public] every meeting and phone call."

Biden, near the close of a long-planned trip, was in Moscow Wednesday, where he laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier -- a traditional duty for visiting dignitaries -- and also met with U.S. Embassy officials and American and Russian business leaders.

Biden told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that the U.S. strongly supports his country's entry into the World Trade Organization, an issue still being negotiated. The vice president also praised the signing of a $2 billion deal between Boeing and Aeroflot for six Boeing Co. 777-300 airliners. "It will create high-tech jobs here in Russia and at home," Biden said.

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