By Russell Berman, Erik Wasson and Justin Sink - 10/09/13 12:34 AM EDT
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday rejected President Obama’s offer to negotiate a long-term fiscal deal in exchange for temporary measures to end the government shutdown and lift the debt ceiling.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama said that if House Republicans re-opened the government and lifted the nation’s borrowing authority — even for a few months — he would enter into wide-ranging talks that could include his signature healthcare law and issues related to the debt.
“If they want to do that, reopen the government. Extend the debt ceiling. If they can’t do it for a long time, do it for the period of time in which these negotiations are taking place,” Obama said.
“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 America works.”
It was not immediately clear whether Obama’s suggestion for a short-term deal represented a possible way out for both sides ahead of an Oct. 17 deadline for raising the debt ceiling.
During a press conference lasting more than an hour, Obama said he could not take unilateral action to lift the borrowing limit, and warned that a default would be catastrophic for the economy.
“There would be a significant risk of a very deep recession,” Obama said. “This is our word. This is our good name. This is real.”
The president has refused to offer concessions in exchange for Republicans raising the borrowing limit and ending the shutdown, but his comments on Tuesday suggested he would be willing to do so, provided Republicans first agreed to short-term extensions.
Speaking about 90 minutes after Obama’s press conference ended, the Speaker detailed a history of presidents from Ronald Reagan to Obama himself who negotiated broad deficit-reduction packages.
“The long and the short of it is, there’s going to be a negotiation here,” Boehner said.
The Speaker said he wants a deal now: “… it’s time to have that conversation — not next week, not next month.”
His remarks closed a long day of political posturing in which the status quo prevailed: the federal government remained shuttered for an eighth consecutive day, and the nation moved a day closer to the Oct. 17 deadline set by the Treasury Department for avoiding a first-ever default on the debt.
The House voted to reopen the Head Start program in its 10th piecemeal funding measure, a strategy that the White House and Senate Democrats have rejected.
And House Republicans moved forward on a separate package to pay federal employees deemed “essential” while forming a special, bicameral committee of 20 to hash out a long-term deficit-reduction plan that would include a budget and an increase in the debt ceiling.
The plan was announced to Republicans in passing during a closed-door conference meeting Tuesday morning, and the GOP leadership brought it quickly to the floor for an evening vote.
“The Senate is refusing to talk and work out a solution to the imminent problems that we are into,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said. “The purpose of the bill is to create a place, an avenue to get together with the White House and the Senate.”
While Republicans said the move was designed to highlight Democratic intransigence and force them to the negotiating table, it drew unfavorable comparisons to the failed supercommittee that emerged from the last major debt-ceiling deal, in 2011.
The inability of that earlier panel to reach a budget deal set in motion the sequestration spending cuts that both parties have criticized.
GOP leadership aides pushed back on the suggestion that the new panel would be a rehash of the 2011 effort.
“House Republicans are proposing a working group for bipartisan discussions about a path forward — a negotiating team, NOT a ‘supercommittee,’ ” one aide wrote in an email to reporters.
The GOP plan would not include a timetable for striking an agreement, nor would it have triggered policy changes if a deal failed to materialize.
The White House issued a formal veto threat for the legislation late Tuesday afternoon.
While Obama signaled openness to a short-term deal to buy time for a broader plan, he questioned the need for a new committee — and the sincerity of the Republican offer to negotiate.
“The leaders up in Congress, they can work through whatever processes they want, but the bottom line is either you’re having good-faith negotiations in which you’re having a give and take, or you’re not,” Obama said.
The president said that it appeared the GOP was pursuing a framework for the panel in which Republicans would demand negotiations on areas of the budget that concern them, while eliminating discussion of items like closing corporate tax loopholes that Democrats have demanded.
“I don’t know why Democrats right now would agree to a format that takes off the table everything they care about,” Obama said.
“They can design whatever formats they want,” he said. “What is not fair and will not result in an actual deal is ransom taking or hostage taking.”
With the debt-ceiling deadline approaching, talk about a stopgap plan increased in the Capitol.
Boehner ally Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said he hoped Obama’s openness to a short-term increase to the debt ceiling meant he was moving toward a debt negotiation, but he noted that the openness was accompanied by a lot of heated rhetoric.
“I hope so, but it didn’t sound optimistic listening to his press conference — an hour and a half of saying ‘no, I’m not going to negotiate,’ ” Simpson said. “So we’ll see. But I’m sure Republicans would go along with that.”
“The only reason to do a short-term [deal] is if there is a framework laid out to negotiate. If he is willing to do that, there could be a short-term increase in the debt limit,” he said.
Earlier in the day, another senior Republican close to the leadership, Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), also voiced openness to a short-term measure.
“I suspect if it’s a serious negotiation, that could probably happen,” he said. “That’s not unusual. That’s the history of these things.”
But even that kind of temporary measure would need Democratic votes, Cole added.
“I think we could support what our leadership asks us to support, and if it’s a real negotiation, there will be votes from both sides,” he said after the House GOP meeting.
Bernie Becker contributed.
Updated at 8:34 p.m.