BACKING AWAY FROM THE BRINK?…. We’re not quite at the point at which anyone can say an agreement is in place, but National Journal reports the likelihood of a government shutdown has “diminished dramatically” this evening.

While leadership staff insist there is no deal yet, that caution belies significant progress in narrowing long-standing differences and the widening assumption in both parties that a shutdown will be averted and all that remains unknown is the precise procedural steps that will walk everyone back from the abyss.

Numerous GOP and Democratic sources on and off Capitol Hill tell National Journal that the outline of the deal is as follows: up to $39 billion in cuts from the 2010 budget, $514 billion in spending for the defense budget covering the remainder of this fiscal year, a GOP agreement to abandon controversial policy riders dealing with Planned Parenthood and the EPA, and an agreement to pass a “bridge” continuing resolution late Friday night to keep the government operating while the deal is written in bill form.

House appropriators began meeting in Speaker John Boehner’s office about 7:45 p.m. EDT, a sure sign of preparing floor action for another stopgap spending bill, the seventh in a process that began last year when Democrats failed to pass the necessary spending bills to fund the government for this fiscal year.

Brian Beutler is reporting that a Dem source confirms that the general frameword reported by National Journal is accurate.

As you’ll recall, Harry Reid’s “final offer” was for $38 billion in cuts. Tonight, apparently, Republicans traded an extra billion for the Planned Parenthood rider.

The House GOP wouldn’t give up on the provision entirely, though, and would instead get some kind of “symbolic” vote intended to make the far-right base feel better.

And just as a reminder, even if there is a deal, there’s no time to actually craft the legislation and have it voted on by midnight. Instead, the agreement would include a very short-term extension — two or three days — to keep the government running until the larger package can be approved.

President Obama, who has opposed any additional stop-gap measures, has consistently said a brief extension, just for procedural purposes, would be fine.

Reid was scheduled to update the Senate on the process at 6 p.m., which was then bumped to 8 p.m., and is now set for 9 p.m.

Given how this has unfolded so far, I wouldn’t go popping any champagne bottles just yet — assuming, that is, you’re hoping to avoid a shutdown — but there’s clearly been considerable movement and the odds of a shutdown are falling fast.

Update: David Kurtz is on the same page: “A Democratic source tells TPM that both sides are close to putting together a budget deal with $39 billion in spending cuts and agreements to remove the controversial policy riders Republicans were fighting for.”

Second Update: As of 10:25, Reid hasn’t come to the floor. He’ll get there eventually.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.