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Biden resumes role as Capitol Hill negotiator

From NBC's Ken Strickland
With a new short-term agreement in place that gives lawmakers just 16 days before the government runs out of money, Senate Democrats are calling in their big gun: Vice President Joe Biden.

"In the next 24 hours, there will be some meetings that will be directed by Vice President Biden," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced in a news conference today. "And I'm happy that, in fact, is the case."

Lawmakers postponed the threat of a government shutdown Wednesday, when the Senate passed a two-week spending bill that funds government operations through March 18th. But Democrats and Republicans are still sparring over spending cuts in a longer-term bill to keep the government running through the rest of the year.

Reid has refused to allow a vote on a House-passed measure that includes $61 billion in cuts, labeling the spending reductions proposed by House Republicans as “extreme.”

To bridge that chasm between the two sides, Democrats are calling in an old hand.

Biden has been no stranger to the Hill, even since leaving it to join the administration. A former senator who has personal relationships with key Senate Republicans, Biden played a critical role last year brokering a deal with Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

While the White House has largely remained on the sidelines during Congressional budget negotiations, Democrats feel Biden's presence will present a united front. Democratic leaders say they’re being careful to ensure their proposed spending cuts don't conflict with the administration’s priorities.

"We want to be at one with the White House,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “We want to be working together with them. We don't want to have them have a budget and we have a budget."

Republican leaders contend that Biden's role won't dramatically impact the talks, instead placing the onus on Senate Democrats to propose significant spending cuts.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner would not commit to taking part in negotiations with Biden, noting that talks between the two parties have already been in progress.

"I think it's important to make clear that we've been in discussions with our Democrat colleagues for weeks. This isn't something new," said Boehner. "And the House's position is, we passed a bill. It's out there. And I think it's time for [Democrats] to outline for us what's their position to keep the government funded."

Msnbc.com's Carrie Dann contributed