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VP Biden Says Debt Talks Progressing, 'Getting Down to the Real Hard Stuff'

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- After emerging from the eighth round of Biden-led deficit reduction negotiations to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, negotiators made clear Thursday night that while the bipartisan, bicameral group is making progress, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.

“We’ve made progress on that but any progress on that is contingent on resolving other issues down the road. And I want to emphasize that,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member on the House Budget committee, said. “Today was primarily going over some of the earlier issues we discussed in a rough way at the beginning of this process.  And trying to pin down where we actually had agreements. And again I want to emphasize this, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”

Van Hollen said that everything is subject to be reopened for re-negotiation “if we don’t get agreement on some of the big issues.” Those big issues, the Maryland Democrat added, are still a “long way” away from being worked out.

Thursday’s discussion focused on non-health mandatory spending, which accounts for about 12 percent of the federal budget. But nothing had been agreed to yet, legislators leaving the meeting emphasized.

“We have more do to on that, and we’ve got more to do on the healthcare and more to do on the discretionary,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said.

Vice President Biden said there are still differences that have to be bridged and that won’t occur until the end -- a natural result of how the negotiating process works.  The meetings up until now, Biden says, have been about the low-hanging fruit in the areas where they can identify mutual agreement on savings. The tough topics are what is left ahead of the Treasury Department’s Aug. 2 deadline to enact a deal.

“We’ve gone through all those discrete elements, and the really tough stuff that’s left are the big ticket items, and philosophically big ticket items,” Biden said.  “Where we are now is we’ve gone through a first series scrub of each of the categories that make up the total federal budget including mandatory spending, and we’ve said if we could agree on the pieces most important to us -- Democrats -- revenue, we’re prepared to agree on some of the things you want in discretionary spending if we can get an agreement on military, we’re prepared to do more on.”

Asked whether he is concerned that if and when this group brokers a deal it might be hard to sell to the rank-and-file members on both sides, Biden said he is not worried and that they won’t agree on anything that they cannot get passed through each chamber with bipartisan consensus.

The group will meet up to four times next week and has been told to take “bigger chunks out of their calendar” for these meetings.

“Now we’re getting down to the real hard stuff,” Biden said as he left the Capitol this evening.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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