Obama visits FEMA to pressure Boehner on budget stalemate

October 7, 2013

President Obama on Monday dared House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to call an immediate vote on a clean spending bill that would reopen the federal government after a week-long shutdown.

Obama also strongly pushed back against Boehner and other Republicans who say he is not negotiating during the budget stalemate. Obama said he is “happy” to negotiate but refuses to do so under the threat of a shutting down the government or defaulting on the nation’s debt.

“I’m happy to talk to Republicans about anything related to the budget,” Obama said. “There’s not a subject that I am not willing to engage in, work on, negotiate and come up with compromises.” But, the president added, “we’re not going to negotiate under the threat of further harm to our economy and middle class families.”

Obama added that Democrats effectively already have compromised in the budget debate by agreeing to a budget bill that has lower spending levels reflecting Republican priorities.

“It’s the Republican budget,” Obama said. “That’s a pretty significant compromise.”

Obama’s remarks came during a lunchtime visit Monday to the Washington headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which like other federal agencies has seen its staff cut during the budget stalemate. Obama said some 86 percent of the workforce has been furloughed because of the government shutdown that began last Tuesday.

On Sunday, Boehner suggested that there would not be enough votes in the House to pass a clean continuing resolution -- a no-strings-attached budget bill that would effectively reopen the government. But Obama believes otherwise, and on Monday he dared Boehner to “prove it.”

“Call a vote right now, and let’s see what happens,” Obama said, adding that members of Congress should be allowed to vote their conscience on the budget issue.

Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck responded to Obama’s visit to FEMA by highlighting a bill, passed by the House last week, that would restore funding to FEMA to maintain “normal operations.” Noting that Obama has threatened to veto the legislation, Buck said the bill is awaiting action in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

“If the president and Washington Democrats want FEMA up and running, they have the ability to make it happen today,” Buck said in a statement to reporters.

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Sean Sullivan | October 7, 2013