WASHINGTON — In their first meeting since a budget impasse shuttered many federal operations, President Obama told Republican leaders Wednesday that he would negotiate with them only after they agreed to the funding needed to reopen the government and to an essential increase in the nation’s debt limit, without add-ons.
The president’s position reflected the administration view that the Republicans’ strategy is failing. His meeting with congressional leaders, just over an hour long, ended without any resolution.
As they left, Republican and Democratic leaders separately reiterated their contrary positions to reporters. The House speaker, John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Obama “will not negotiate,” while the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats would agree to spending at levels already passed by the House. “My friend John Boehner cannot take ‘yes’ for an answer,” Reid said.
The meeting was the first time the president linked the two actions that he and a divided Congress are fighting over this month: a budget for the fiscal year that began Tuesday and an increase in the $16.7 trillion debt limit by Oct. 17, the last day the Treasury Department estimates that the federal government is certain to have enough money to pay all its bills.
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Only when those actions are taken, Obama said, would he agree to revive bipartisan talks toward a long-term budget deal addressing the growing costs of Medicare and Medicaid and the inadequacy of federal tax revenues.
While the lack of a budget forced the government shutdown this week, failure to raise the debt limit would have worse repercussions, threatening America’s credit rating with a globe-shaking default and risking an economic relapse at home. Yet the refusal by the Republican-led House this week to approve government funding until Obama agrees to delay his health-care law — a nonnegotiable demand, he has said — raised fears that Republicans likewise would carry out their threat to withhold approval of an increase in the debt ceiling.
In a meeting with Wall Street executives and in an interview with CNBC before his White House meeting with congressional leaders, Obama said he needed to draw a firm line “to break that fever” in the House among hard-line conservatives who repeatedly issued fiscal ultimatums, resulting in government by crisis.
“As soon as we get a clean piece of legislation that reopens the government — and there is a majority for that right now in the House of Representatives — until we get that done, until we make sure that Congress allows Treasury to pay for things that Congress itself already authorized, we are not going to engage in a series of negotiations,” Obama told CNBC, a cable business-news channel.
Boehner, under pressure from Republican conservatives and outside tea-party groups, has declined to bring a so-called clean continuing resolution to the House for a vote because it would pass mostly with Democrats’ votes and probably prompt a conservative backlash that could cost him his leadership office.
Obama, in the interview, said he must resist the Republican demands this time because a precedent is at stake. “If we get in the habit where a few folks, an extremist wing of one party, whether it’s Democrat or Republican, are allowed to extort concessions based on a threat of undermining the full faith and credit of the United States, then any president who comes after me — not just me — will find themselves unable to govern effectively,” he said.
Many Republicans concede Obama has the political advantage in the current confrontation, so some in the House reacted hopefully to the president’s summons to congressional leaders to meet late in the day. Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., called the meeting “the beginning of the end of the government shutdown,” although others in Congress and the administration were less optimistic.
While polls suggest Republicans are likely to be blamed for the shutdown, both parties took steps Wednesday to contain potential damage.
Republicans continued to press a piecemeal approach to funding the government, pursuing one-off bills that would fund the National Institutes of Health and other programs. Obama pledged to veto them, repeating his demand that Congress reopen the entire government.
He took other steps to avoid attracting flak for the shutdown, including taking advantage of a loophole that would allow many veterans to visit shuttered war memorials. Obama also canceled part of a trip next week to Asia to limit the amount of time he might be abroad.
An attempt by Democrats to force shutdown-ending legislation to the House floor failed on a 227-197 vote, with all Republicans in opposition.
That left intact the tea-party-driven strategy of demanding changes to the nation’s health-care law as the price for essential federal financing, despite grumbling from Republican moderates.
Material from The Associated Press and The Washington Post is included in this report.