WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders emerged from a 90-minute White House meeting on Wednesday evening pointing fingers at members of their opposing parties for not doing their part to halt the government shutdown and address the possibility of a federal debt default.
“The president reiterated one more time tonight that he will not negotiate,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said shortly after the meeting. “I would hope that the president and our Democrat colleagues in the Senate would listen to the American people and have a serious discussion about resolving these differences.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., spoke after the meeting, too, and again blamed the Republicans for the stalemate.
“This has never happened before, where a political party would be willing to take the country to the brink of financial disaster and say we’re not going to pay our bills,” Reid said. “The president will not stand for that.”
The White House meeting was expected to include a briefing on the havoc of not funding the government or allowing it to pay its bills on time through new borrowing authority — a fight that will intensify later this month.
In an interview with CNBC, Obama said he was “prepared to negotiate on anything” regarding the federal budget — but only after Congress passes “a clean piece of legislation that reopens the government” and allows the “Treasury to pay for things that Congress itself already authorized.”
“Am I exasperated?” Obama said of Boehner, who is under pressure from tea party Republicans and refusing to let the House vote on the Senate-approved spending plan. “I am absolutely exasperated, because this is entirely unnecessary.”
Boehner and other Republicans have complained that Obama and Democrats refuse to negotiate on Obamacare, which took a major step forward this week when exchanges to purchase private health coverage were rolled out.
“We’re pleased the president finally recognizes that his refusal to negotiate is indefensible,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner. “It’s unclear why we’d be having this meeting if it’s not meant to be a start to serious talks between the two parties.”
Obama and his party accuse Republicans of trying to force them into defunding or delaying Obamacare by using as leverage the need to fund the government and increase the Treasury’s capacity to borrow money to pay U.S. bills.
“If we get in the habit where a few folks, an extremist wing of one party … are allowed to extort concessions based on a threat of undermining the full faith and credit of the United States, then any president that comes after me … will find themselves unable to govern effectively,” Obama said. “And that is not something that I’m going to allow to happen.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that it was Republicans attaching partisan demands to what should be congressional responsibilities to fund the government and ensure it can meet its debt obligations.
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The GOP-led House didn’t rest on its laurels Wednesday — pushing through piecemeal spending measures that would fund specific programs, though there’s no indication they will go anywhere in the Democratic-led Senate.
The incremental approach pushed by GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas seeks to pressure Democrats to approve spending for programs that Republicans like, but not Obamacare.
An initial effort Tuesday failed because the short-term proposals comprising a tiny portion of the overall federal budget lacked the necessary two-thirds majority support due to Democratic opposition.
But on Wednesday, the House did manage to pass — with majority support — bills to fund national parks, the National Institutes of Health and District of Columbia operations.
Obama has signaled he’d veto those measures should they reach his desk. That’s unlikely given that Reid has dismissed the approach as “reckless and irresponsible.”
Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York said the easiet solution was for the House to approve the spending proposal for the entire government sent over by the Senate, which lacks any of the anti-Obamacare provisions demanded by Cruz and his allies.
Both parties have refused to budge from their visions for the budget and, beyond that, health care reform. The Democratic-led Senate, for instance, has rejected four separate House GOP spending proposals that would either delay or defund Obamacare — insisting that the Republican-led House pass a Senate approved measure to continue funding the government without add-ons or qualifications.
In addition to the government shutdown — the first since a 21-day stalemate during the Clinton administration some 18 years ago — also looming is the Oct. 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling. Obama and congressional leaders all say that no one wants the stalemate to spread to that issue, which could mean a U.S. default. But no progress has occurred on finding a solution.
Writing Tuesday in USA Today, Boehner dug in his heels on the debt ceiling issue, saying “there is no way Congress can or should pass such a bill without spending cuts and reforms to deal with the debt and deficit.”
Obama offered no indication that he’ll budge. Noting that such Republican brinkmanship in 2011 led to the first-ever downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, he said Tuesday he “will not negotiate over Congress’ responsibility to pay bills it’s already racked up.”
The shutdown of the government — the country’s largest employer — isn’t happening all at once.
Federal employees who are considered essential will continue working. Those deemed non-essential — up to 800,000 — could be furloughed, unsure when they’ll be able to work or get paid again.
The shutdown could cost the still-struggling U.S. economy about $1 billion a week in pay lost by furloughed federal workers. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.