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Clock Ticks as Leaders Remain Hopeful for Deal

Less than 12 hours away from a government shutdown, Speaker John Boehner emerged from a closed-door meeting with his Conference on Friday and said talks on a long-term spending bill would continue through the afternoon.

According to sources, the Ohio Republican told his colleagues that while no deal was at hand, the two sides were close to a final agreement on not only the size of spending cuts to be included in the six-month funding measure but where those cuts would come from.

The Speaker also told Republicans they were close to a final agreement on what policy riders would be added.

Boehner told reporters that “talks remain respectful” but that “there is no agreement on a spending level.”

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers also said that negotiators were still working out an overall spending-cut number and where the cuts would come from, as well as that the level of mandatory spending cuts was still not finalized. The Kentucky Republican said policy riders, however, “have been dealt with” but refused to describe the details of which, if any, riders would be included.

Rogers said he still thought there was time to move another “bridge” spending bill to avert a shutdown if leadership calls for it.

“If they told me to do that, I think we could do that,” he said.

Although Democrats have insisted for days that a policy rider aimed at defunding Planned Parenthood was the main sticking point for Republicans, conservatives on Friday stopped short of saying that it was a deal-breaker for them.

Among them was freshman Rep. Allen West.

“I’ll have to evaluate what really comes out,” the Florida Republican said. “I have to do some soul searching and evaluate it because I’m looking at the big picture.”

In fact, Republican lawmakers and aides have indicated that one of the biggest stumbling blocks to Boehner pulling the trigger on a deal is his insistence that an agreement have the backing of 218 Republicans — enough to pass the House without any Democratic votes.

Boehner’s desire for a large GOP majority vote is rooted in fights other than the continuing resolution debate, particularly the 2012 budget and debt limit fights that loom on the horizon.

As a result, Boehner is being careful to pull together as much support as he can, which has in turn driven his insistence on a number of social policy riders, as well as focusing cuts on discretionary, rather than mandatory, spending accounts.

Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price said GOP leaders were right to think it was important for Boehner to secure 218 votes for the deal he strikes.

“Cohesiveness of the Conference clearly is important — absolutely, and that’s what he’s working for,” the Georgia Republican said.

How close Boehner is to the magic number of Republicans is not clear.

Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the 176-member Republican Study Committee, said he did not yet know enough about what was being negotiated to determine whether it was something he could support.

“I’ll make a decision when I see the final bill,” the Ohio Republican said.

Asked whether he would put more weight in riders or how the spending issue was resolved, Jordan said, “It’s about all of it.”

With talks continuing, Boehner told his Conference to be ready to huddle anytime during the day or Friday night. “We’re all on standby,” said Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), one of the leaders of the freshman class. He said he believes Boehner has handled the talks with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) correctly. “I do think he’s done a good job,” Grimm said. “None of us want to shut down the government.”

But with a government shutdown less than 12 hours away, Republican aides were already beginning to plan how they would handle a shutdown over the weekend. According to several aides, Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will almost certainly keep the House in session until a final deal is cut.

Although details of a shutdown session were being worked out, leaders will likely keep Members on the chamber floor discussing the situation in a public show of lawmakers’ efforts to address the situation.

Kathleen Hunter and Jessica Brady contributed to this report.

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