No debt deal yet, but hopes rise after 'constructive' talks

Greg Nash

President Obama and House Republicans failed to reach a deal to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling at a White House meeting Thursday night.

Both sides, however, described it as constructive and said talks would continue as Washington, at long last, appeared to be holding real negotiations to prevent a possible default on U.S. debt and end the 11-day shutdown.

A House GOP leadership aide said Friday that talks on the staff level would pick back up in the morning after no decisions were made overnight.

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) on Friday morning described the discussions as a possible "breakthrough" and said the negotiations were encouraging. 

“We had a useful meeting. We agreed to continue discussions,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said upon returning to the Capitol. “We will continue tonight, and hopefully we will have a clearer path forward,"

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Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) brought to the White House an offer he presented to Republicans earlier in the day that would lift the debt ceiling for six weeks but keep the government shuttered while the parties negotiated a broader budget deal.

“The president didn’t say 'yes,' he didn’t say 'no,' ” said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Ryan has recorded a video message to be played at a summit of conservative voters in Washington Friday. The message suggests Republicans need to lower their expectations after a shutdown that began with GOP demands to defund, and then delay ObamaCare. 

Brady described those demands Friday as a bridge too far.

“I know that no president in modern history has ever repealed a major signature law that was just passed,” he said in an appearance on MSNBC. “That clearly was a bridge too far.”

Obama made clear at Thursday's meeting that he wanted a swift resolution that would end the government shutdown, and Republicans said they would seek an agreement that would resolve both ends of the fiscal crisis.

“We’ve agreed to try to find the conditions for a [continuing resolution] in order to end the shutdown,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “And we’ll get back with each other tonight.”

Republicans are holding off — for now — on the proposal they presented to their rank-and-file members Thursday morning, Rogers said.

“We’ll wait and see how these conversations go,” he said.

The GOP offer to increase the debt ceiling came as polls show that the shutdown and the looming default have damaged the party with voters.

Two polls from Gallup, and NBC News and The Wall Street Journal released in the last two days found that the favorability of the Republican Party had sunk to an all-time low. The NBC survey Thursday found that a higher percentage of voters blamed Republicans for the current shutdown than did in the last round of shutdowns in 1995-96.

The White House said no specific determinations were made at the meeting but that Obama looked forward “to making continued progress with members on both sides of the aisle.”

“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, creating jobs and strengthening the middle class,” the White House said.

In addition to the president, Vice President Biden, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors attended the meeting.

One top issue that barely came up during the meeting was ObamaCare.

“Not in any substantive way,” Rogers said. “It was mentioned a couple of times.”

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said, however, that the president’s healthcare law remained a topic of discussion.

“After this meeting I did not leave with the impression anything was 'off the table’ ” he said of ObamaCare. “We understand the president has strong feelings, and this is a broader conversation.”

The GOP debt-ceiling offer was contingent on Obama agreeing to negotiations on a longer-term budget deal, though details of the proposal have been kept under wraps.

The proposal would not have ended the 10-day government shutdown, and Obama has vowed not to negotiate with House Republicans until they reopen the government.

Yet it appeared that the president had agreed to enter substantive discussion with Republicans after the hourlong meeting, although Rogers stopped short of saying he was “negotiating.”

“I don’t want to characterize what negotiations are or what conversations are,” Rogers said. “I can’t think of another word that would describe it better than those.”

Twenty House Republicans attended the meeting, including the full leadership team, crucial committee chairmen and the head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) — a late invitee by Boehner.

“Obviously we couldn't resolve all of our differences on the debt ceiling and the CR [continuing resolution] in that first meeting, but at least we are going to continue having those conversations tonight and tomorrow, and we're going to stay as long as it takes,” Scalise said

Boehner also ignored shouted questions from reporters upon returning to Capitol Hill. He and other Republicans did not address reporters at the White House.

Following a White House meeting between the president and Senate Democrats earlier Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said negotiations on a broad budget deal are “not going to happen” before the government reopens.

Earlier Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama was encouraged by the House GOP offer and that Obama would likely sign a six-week debt-ceiling hike. But he hedged on whether Obama would agree to the longer-term budget negotiations if the shutdown continued.

— This story was first posted at 6:13 p.m. Thursday and last updated at 9:11 a.m. Friday.

— Bernie Becker contributed to this story.