Obama, GOP begin talks, but no breakthrough yet
After a 90-minute meeting at the White House, House Republicans and the Obama administration remained at odds over how and when to end the partial government shutdown, with the president insisting that Republicans reopen federal agencies before negotiations over broader budget issues can begin.
The Washington Post and The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Obama opened talks with a delegation of House Republicans on Thursday about their plan to lift the federal debt limit through Nov. 22, raising hopes that the nation would avert its first default on the national debt.
But after a 90-minute meeting at the White House, the two sides remained at odds over how and when to end the partial government shutdown, with Obama insisting that Republicans reopen federal agencies before negotiations over broader budget issues can begin.
In the Senate, top Republicans began crafting a proposal that would reopen the government and raise the federal debt limit for as long as three months, an approach closer to the terms Obama has set to end the standoff.
The developments meant that bipartisan negotiations were suddenly under way on two separate tracks after weeks of stalemate. Major questions remain, however, about the path ahead.
Twenty Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner, went to the White House at Obama’s invitation after a day of fine-tuning their offer to increase the Treasury Department’s authority to borrow money to pay existing obligations through Nov. 22. In exchange, they sought the president’s commitment to negotiate a deal for long-term deficit reduction and a tax overhaul.
“The president didn’t say yes, didn’t say no,” said Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee. “We’re continuing to negotiate this evening.” He added: “We agreed to continue talking and continue negotiating.”
Both sides described Obama’s evening session with House Republicans as a “good meeting,” and said talks will continue. “The president’s goal remains to ensure we pay the bills we’ve incurred, reopen the government and get back to the business of growing the economy,” the administration said in a statement.
Boehner, R-Ohio, returned to the Capitol without speaking to reporters. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the meeting was “clarifying,” even though it did not produce a resolution.
Nonetheless, it seemed the endgame may be at hand in the crises that have bedeviled the divided government for weeks, rattled markets in the U.S. and overseas and locked 350,000 furloughed federal workers out of their jobs.
The up-and-down day also featured a warning from Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who told lawmakers that the prospect of default had already caused interest rates to rise — and that worse lay ahead.
Appearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Lew said the Treasury must pay Social Security and veterans benefits, as well as salaries to active-duty military troops during the second half of this month. He said failure to raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit by Oct. 17 “could put timely payment of all of these at risk.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid advanced legislation to simply raise the debt limit and stave off the threat of an unprecedented federal financial default, a measure that Republicans are likely to block unless he agrees to change it.
Across the Capitol, Boehner left open the possibility of launching a rival measure in the House on Friday.
As he described it for his rank and file in a closed-door morning session in the Capitol, the House GOP proposal would leave the shutdown in place while raising the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt limit and setting up negotiations between the GOP and the president over spending cuts and other issues.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said the president would “likely sign” a short-term extension in the debt ceiling, and did not rule out his doing so even if it left the shutdown intact.
Reid wasn’t nearly as amenable. “Not going to happen,” he said.
By the time House Republicans had returned from the White House hours later, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said part of their hope was to “quickly settle” on legislation to permit the government to reopen.
Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said it was clear Obama would “like to have the shutdown stopped ... and we’re trying to find out what he would insist upon in the (legislation) and what we would insist upon.”
Heartened by any hint of progress, Wall Street chose to accentuate the positive. After days of decline, the Dow Jones industrial average soared 323 points on hopes that the divided government was taking steps to avoid a default. Reid’s dismissive comments at the White House came at the end of the trading day.
After more than a week of lost tourism, some governors prevailed on the Obama administration to let states use their own money to pay for national parks to reopen, Grand Canyon and Zion among them. There was a catch: The Interior Department made it clear it didn’t plan to reimburse the states after the shutdown ends.
Also Thursday, Obama signed a bill ensuring that families of fallen troops will receive death benefits, after the Pentagon suspended the roughly $100,000 payments during the shutdown. The bill won final passage in the Senate earlier in the day.
The shutdown began Oct. 1 after Obama ruled out any concessions that would defund, delay or otherwise change the new health-care law. He said he would be willing to negotiate on a range of issues, but only after the shutdown was ended and the debt limit raised.
Republicans drafted a long list of demands to accompany any increase in the debt limit, including some that would raise the cost of Medicare for better-off beneficiaries, make changes to the health-care law and roll back several environmental regulations either issued or in the planning stages by the administration.
In recent days, the focus has shifted from the shutdown to the threat of default, and Republicans have spoken less and less frequently about insisting on concessions in the health-care law.
For House Republicans, Thursday’s maneuvers represented a near complete reversal of their original strategy in September of going to the mat over the debt limit but not shutting down the government. Now, under pressure from falling poll numbers and angry business supporters, they are seeking a compromise on the debt ceiling. Yet for now, they are still refusing to finance and reopen the government without some concessions.
Material from The New York Times is included in this report.