White House seeks Hill leadership meetings to avoid shutdown

The White House is attempting to organize a meeting with congressional leaders next week ahead of the deadline for lawmakers to strike a deal to keep the federal government open.

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The president and congressional leaders have not yet been able to iron out a specific date and time, although it will have to come in the latter half of the week. President Obama will be in New York on Monday and Tuesday to attend the United Nations General Assembly. 

The White House hopes to use the meeting to convince lawmakers to strike a deal on the federal budget, with a pair of rapidly approaching deadlines threatening the nation's economic stability. 

If lawmakers do not strike a budget deal before the end of the month, the government would shut down all non-essential services. A few weeks later, the government is expected to hit the debt ceiling if Congress cannot agree to raise the borrowing limit.

But Republicans on Capitol Hill expressed skepticism that the meeting would have any effect on a contentious budgeting process.

“The White House has indicated it would like to convene a meeting with congressional leaders," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). 

"The Speaker will attend, of course, but given that the president has said he won’t discuss the debt limit with Congress, we’re not sure why it’s even taking place.”

Relations between Obama and Boehner have been severely strained since the failure of talks to reach a grand bargain on the debt in 2011. Earlier this week, the Speaker questioned why Obama was willing to work with the Russians to find a diplomatic solution in Syria but not with Republicans over the debt limit.

The same day, Boehner said he had no intention of returning to the one-on-one grand bargain talks he pursued with Obama in 2011. 

On Friday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said there was "no doubt" the president would "be in conversations with congressional leaders in the coming days about the need to deal with these pressing deadlines."

But Carney would not reveal who Obama hoped to meet with, or what format those meetings might take.

"I can only say that you can expect that he’ll have conversations with leaders in Congress about these looming deadlines and about the need for Congress to do the right thing, make sure they don't shut down the government and make sure they don't default," he said. "I don't have any more details for you."

During budget negotiations in 2011 and 2012, the president invited Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to the White House in a bid to iron out deals.

But in January, Boehner indicated that he was no longer interested in pursuing a grand bargain through direct White House negotiations.