Shutdown Day 9: President Invites Party Caucuses of House, Senate for Separate Meetings
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Let the arm-twisting begin.
President Barack Obama is inviting the party caucuses of the House and Senate for separate meetings to discuss the government shutdown and the need to raise the debt limit, a White House official told CNN on Wednesday.
House Democrats will be the first group at the White House later in the day, the official said.
News of Obama’s planned sessions came on the ninth day of the shutdown caused by the failure of Congress to approve funding for the government in the new fiscal year that began October 1.
Now another deadline looms — the need to increase the federal borrowing limit by October 17 or cause what would be the first-ever U.S. debt default.
The stalemate involves Republicans trying to use the spending and debt limit deadlines as leverage to wring concessions from Obama and Democrats, who want to protect government programs and services from tea party conservatives advocating austerity measures and the dismantling of the president’s signature health care reforms.
House Speaker John Boehner and Republicans are demanding that Obama and Senate Democrats negotiate on deficit reduction steps that would be part of legislation to reopen the government and raise the limit on federal borrowing needed to pay the bills.
Obama refuses to enter formal talks until the shutdown ends and the debt ceiling has been raised to remove the threat of default, which economists warn could cause another recession.
Days of back-and-forth rhetoric and jibes between the leaders has brought no direct negotiations, but plenty of accusations and political spin.
At a news conference, Obama indicated Republicans could essentially set the agenda for budget negotiations, but only if Congress agrees first to a short-term spending plan to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling.
He said Republicans could attach some kind of mechanism “to specify all the items that they think need to be a topic of conversation” to measures he would sign to reopen the government and end the threat of default.
Boehner promptly rejected Obama’s comments as nothing new.
“What the president said today was if there’s unconditional surrender by Republicans, he’ll sit down and talk to us,” Boehner said. “That’s not the way our government works.”
At the same time, Boehner said he was “hopeful” top Republicans and Democrats could soon begin a “conversation.”
“There’s going to be a negotiation here,” the Ohio Republican said. “We can’t raise the debt ceiling without doing something about what’s driving it to borrow more money and live beyond our means.”
A senior House Republican told CNN that GOP members may be willing to go for a short-term debt ceiling hike — lasting four to six weeks — as long as the president agrees negotiations will occur during that time.
However, no specifics were immediately available about how such legislation would take shape or how the talks would occur.
The GOP-led House passed a measure on Tuesday to set up a special negotiating team comprising members of both parties from the House and Senate, but Obama and Democrats rejected the concept as the latest Republican gimmick to force talks before raising the debt ceiling.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats announced they will propose a measure to increase the debt ceiling beyond next year’s congressional elections with no additional issues attached.
While many Republicans are certain to oppose it, Democratic leaders hope increased pressure for Congress to prevent a default next week will cause some GOP senators to vote for it.
A GOP source told CNN on Tuesday that the White House was having corporate chief executives call Republican leaders. The business community has called for resolving the Washington stalemate to avoid a default that would spike interest rates to impact the economy.
Without a breakthrough, the shutdown would continue at a cost estimated at up to $50 billion a month. Failure to raise the debt ceiling by next week’s deadline would leave the government unable to borrow money to pay its bills for the first time in its history.
All the partisan bickering — and lack of progress — is taking its toll not just on furloughed workers, shuttered government facilities and programs, but also on Americans’ confidence in their government.
Poll: Most angry at both parties
In a national poll released Monday, most respondents said the government shutdown was causing a crisis or major problems for the country.
The CNN/ORC International survey indicated that slightly more people were angry at Republicans than Democrats or Obama for the shutdown, though both sides took a hit.
According to the poll conducted over the weekend, 63% of respondents said they were angry at the Republicans for the way they have handled the shutdown, while 57% expressed anger at Democrats and 53% at Obama.
“It looks like there is more than enough blame to go around, and both parties are being hurt by the shutdown,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
Boehner insists that the government must reduce deficits, and Republicans won’t raise the debt ceiling without steps toward that goal.
He and other GOP leaders are distancing themselves from demands by tea party conservatives to also make dismantling Obamacare a condition for agreement.
Ryan’s plan drops Obamacare
Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the House Budget Committee chairman who was the party’s vice presidential nominee last year, argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Democrats and Republicans should focus on “modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code.”
“Right now, we need to find common ground,” Ryan wrote in the column posted online Tuesday night. “We need to open the federal government. We need to pay our bills today — and make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow. So let’s negotiate an agreement to make modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code.”
However, Ryan’s column never mentioned Obamacare, focusing instead on forced spending cuts to domestic and military programs, as well as reforms to Medicare.
Ryan’s Obamacare omission appeared to anger conservatives, who took to Twitter in response.
“Much like White House press, Paul Ryan doesn’t mention Obamacare in WSJ oped,” tweeted Dan Holler, spokesman for the conservative group Heritage Action.
Senate Democrats sought to keep up the pressure, holding a rally on the Capitol steps on Wednesday to demonstrate their unified stance in calling for House Republicans to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
A CNN survey indicates enough Republicans in the House would join Democrats in voting for a Senate-passed spending plan to end the shutdown.
All 200 Democrats and 19 Republicans support passing a continuing resolution with no additional legislative strings attached .
With two vacancies in 435 member House, 217 votes are currently the minimum needed for the measure to win approval in the House.
However, not enough Republicans are willing to join Democrats in a procedural move to force Boehner to hold a vote on the Senate plan.
Boehner has said the measure would fail to pass in the House, a contention rejected by Obama and Democrats.
The speaker has previously allowed measures to pass the House with mostly Democratic support, which has weakened his leadership among conservatives. Doing so now could cost him his leadership post due to the conservative backlash in would likely unleash, analysts believe.