Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) have ruled that out, leaving the parties hurtling toward an apparent impasse.
In less than two weeks — with the nation at war and authorities investigating a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard — every federal agency from the Pentagon to the FBI is due to shut down unless Congress can reach an agreement. A shutdown would not only disrupt critical government services but also whip up a panic just as lawmakers confront the next major deadline on their fall calendar: the need to raise the $16.7 trillion federal debt limit.
Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf said Tuesday that the Treasury Department is likely to run out of cash to pay its bills “sometime between late October and mid-November,” confirming independent estimates. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has so far been vague about that deadline, telling Congress only that he would exhaust his ability to juggle the books by mid-October.
Despite the risk of widespread economic turmoil, political leaders have yet to begin talks to resolve the impasse. Obama has repeatedly said he would not negotiate over the debt limit, arguing that it is the responsibility of Congress to make sure the Treasury can pay bills incurred by past Congresses. Last month, the White House and a group of Senate Republicans agreed to suspend discussions about a broader budget deal.
Meanwhile, both Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have said it’s up to the House to make the first move to keep the government open. Reid on Tuesday called on Boehner to resist “this relentless obstruction . . . led and directed by the tea party.”
“None of the Republicans are willing to stand up to these anarchists,” Reid told reporters. Of the law known as Obamacare, he added: “They’re obsessed with a bill that passed four years ago, a bill that was declared constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. They can’t get over that.”
Even many Republicans have expressed frustration with the right wing’s fixation on the health-care law, which is intended to make insurance affordable to millions of additional Americans. People are due to begin signing up with new state-run insurance exchanges Oct. 1 and will be eligible for new federal subsidies in 2014.
Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) and a band of House conservatives are leading the charge to block implementation of the law, along with outside groups such as Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth. On Tuesday, the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, which is influential in the GOP, urged them to stand down.