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Congress stalls out on budget and deficits. What next?

Talks broke down on key fronts this week as an impasse appeared on cutting spending and raising taxes. That leaves bipartisan leadership talks, chaired by Vice President Biden, as the main venue for a deal that could pass both the House and Senate.

Vice President Joe Biden meets with congressional Republicans and Democrats at the Blair House in Washington May 5 in hopes of striking a deal on deficit reduction. From left are: House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn of S.C.; House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va.; the vice president; and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Congress slipped into “stall” mode on all things budgetary this week as talks over how to rein in deficits broke down on key fronts.

Senate Democrats had expected to take up their own budget in committee next week, but instead deferred the markup indefinitely. Senate Budget chair Kent Conrad (D) of North Dakota said that he saw no point in going forward with a partisan budget.

At the same time, Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, bowed out of the bipartisan Gang-of-Six talks, citing an impasse over entitlement cuts. The talks between the remaining five senators continued, but Coburn’s role is seen as critical to sell the plan to conservatives.

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“They just don’t have any desire to compromise,” says Stanley Collender, a budget expert and managing director of Qorvis Communications in Washington, commenting on Senate budget negotiations. “If anything, they’re further apart.”

That leaves bipartisan leadership talks, chaired by Vice President Biden, as the main venue for a deal that could pass both the House and Senate. On Thursday, Senator Conrad in effect deferred to those talks with a view to using the Budget Committee to shepherd a bipartisan leadership deal through the Senate.

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