WASHINGTON — Uncomfortably close to a deadline, President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders have only hours to avert a Friday midnight government shutdown that all sides say would inconvenience millions of people and damage a still fragile economy.
Obama said he still hoped to announce an agreement on Friday but did not have "wild optimism."
In revealing nothing about what still divides them, Obama and the lawmakers, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., all said another late night of talks in the Oval Office had narrowed their differences over cutting federal spending and other matters.
But Obama said ominously that the machinery of a shutdown was already in motion.
"I expect an answer in the morning," Obama told reporters Thursday evening as representatives from the White House and Capitol Hill plunged ahead with negotiations into the night.
The aides were trying to cobble together a deal on how much federal spending to slash, where to cut it and what caveats to attach as part of a bill to fund the government through Sept. 30. A temporary federal spending measure expires at midnight Friday.
As the pressure mounted, Obama abruptly postponed plans to promote his agenda in Indiana on Friday.
For a nation eager to trim to federal spending but also weary of Washington bickering, the spending showdown had real implications.
A closure would mean the furloughs of hundreds of thousands of workers and the services they provide, from processing many tax refunds to approving business loans. Medical research would be disrupted, national parks would close and most travel visa and passport services would stop, among many others.
Obama spoke after a double-barreled day of meetings with Boehner and Reid. The three have held four such meetings this week.
Throughout Thursday, the president, Reid and Boehner bargained and blustered by turns, struggling to settle their differences while maneuvering to avoid any political blame if they failed.