President Obama, declaring that he is “not budging” on his demand for a debt-limit increase without partisan strings attached, warned Tuesday that there are “no magic bullets” to avoid a devastating default if the ceiling is not raised, and he challenged House Republicans who believe otherwise to go on record by voting on the matter.
If a debt-ceiling increase fails “and we do end up defaulting,” Obama said in an afternoon news conference, “I think voters should know exactly who voted not to pay our bills, so that they can be responsible for the consequences that come with it.”
Shortly afterward, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) complained to reporters that Obama was demanding “unconditional surrender” by Republicans before he would talk to them. Speaking hours after he and Obama talked on the phone to reiterate their positions, Boehner said he was “disappointed that the president refuses to negotiate.”
He insisted that the House will not vote to reopen the government or raise the federal debt limit without unspecified concessions by Obama to curtail federal spending.
“There’s going to be a negotiation here,” Boehner said. “We can’t raise the debt ceiling without doing something about what’s driving us to borrow more money and to live beyond our means.”
Obama used his appearance in the White House briefing room to forcefully state his case that the Republican-controlled House should hold a vote on a short-term spending bill that would immediately end a partial government shutdown, now in its eighth day.
“Let’s stop the excuses,” Obama said. “Let’s take a vote in the House. Let’s end this shutdown right now.”
Obama said the House also should allow members to vote on increasing the debt limit, because a U.S. default on its debt would “irresponsible,” enormously costly and potentially catastrophic for the U.S. and global economy.
He said a default could “permanently increase our borrowing costs,” adding to deficits and the debt instead of decreasing them. “There’s nothing fiscally responsible about that,” he said.
Obama stressed that he was willing to negotiate with the GOP after threats to the economy were lifted.
“I am happy to talk with him and other Republicans about anything,” Obama said after a phone conversation Tuesday morning with Boehner. “I also told him that having such a conversation, talks, negotiations, shouldn’t require hanging the threats of a government shutdown or economic chaos over the heads of the American people.”
“No American president would deal with a foreign leader like this,” he said. “We shouldn’t be dealing this way here in Washington.”
In response to questions, Obama acknowledged that he was “tempted” to accept piecemeal House Republican bills to fund parts of the government in order to “solve at least some of the problems” caused by the shutdown, which began Oct. 1. But he said a “shotgun approach like that” responds only to areas where the Republicans are “feeling political pressure,” leaving less visible programs unfunded.
“You don’t do a piecemeal approach like that when you’re dealing with a government shutdown,” he said.
On the debt ceiling, he said, Republicans now are “aware of the fact that I’m not budging when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States.”
Obama said he has tried all year to negotiate with Republicans on the budget but did not achieve success.
“We’ve been talking all kinds of business,” he said. “What we haven’t been able to get is serious positions from the Republicans that would actually allow us to solve core differences.”
Obama urged Americans not to be complacent about the threat of default.
“As reckless as a government shutdown is, the economic shutdown caused by America defaulting would be dramatically worse,” he said.
“Even though people can see and feel the effects of the government shutdown, there are still some people out there who don’t believe default is a real thing.”
Contrary to what some supposedly business-oriented Republicans say, Obama declared, a default would be “a big deal.” He added: “There’s no business person out there who thinks this wouldn’t be a big deal.”
Saying otherwise “is irresponsible,” Obama said. “It is out of touch with reality.”
The president also ruled out using the 14th Amendment to unilaterally raise the debt limit. He said inviting “legal controversy” about the U.S. Treasury’s authority to issue debt would mean that “the damage would have been done” even if the action were found constitutional.
“There are no magic bullets here,” Obama said.
In opening remarks at the news conference, Obama said: “The last time that the tea party Republicans flirted with the idea of default, two years ago, markets plunged, business and consumer confidence plunged, America’s credit rating was downgraded for the first time.” Actually permitting the government to default on its debt, he said, quoting business leaders and economists, “would be . . . ‘insane, catastrophic, chaos’ — these are some of the more polite words.”
Obama made the comments as House Republican leaders pressed demands for negotiations with Senate Democrats and Obama over bills to fund the government and raise the debt limit, but declined to lay out what they are seeking in the proposed talks.
Speaking to reporters earlier Tuesday after his weekly meeting with House Republicans, Boehner charged that “by refusing to negotiate,” Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) “are putting our country on a pretty dangerous path.” Obama has rejected Republican provisions to curtail or delay his health-care law as part of a short-term government funding bill and has demanded a debt-ceiling increase without “partisan” attachments.
“Listen, there’s never been a president in our history that did not negotiate over the debt limit,” Boehner said. “Never. Not once. As a matter of fact, President Obama negotiated with me over the debt limit in 2011. He also negotiated with the Blue Dog Democrats to raise the debt in ceiling in 2010. So the way to resolve this is to sit down and have a conversation to resolve our differences.”
But Boehner would not specify what he wants in negotiations with the president. In response to questions, he declined to say whether he would support a short-term increase of the debt ceiling or to spell out the level of spending cuts he would support.
“I’m not drawing any lines in the sand,” Boehner said. “There’s no boundaries here. There’s nothing on the table. There’s nothing off the table. I’m trying to do everything I can to bring people together and to have a conversation.”
In a brief news conference late in the afternoon, Boehner said he agrees with Obama “that we should pay our bills” and avoid a default. But he argued that debt-ceiling increases have been used in the past to negotiate “significant policy changes that reduce spending and put us on a saner fiscal path.”
He added: “This isn’t about me, and frankly it’s not about Republicans. It’s about saving the future for our kids and grandkids.”
“What the president said today was if there was unconditional surrender by Republicans, he’ll sit down and talk to us,” Boehner said. That’s not the way our government works.”
In a rare gathering on the Senate floor Tuesday, senior senators implored both parties to come together to reopen the government and increase the debt limit.
“It is time for us, members of this august body, to stand before the American people,” Reid said after he took the rare step of summoning all senators to the floor. The exchange began around the same time that Obama began addressing reporters at the White House.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has maintained a low profile in recent days, spoke next, reminding Democrats that they will need to negotiate with Republicans in the House to break the impasse.
“The American people have given us divided government. And when you have divided government, it means you have to talk to each other,” McConnell told colleagues.
Earlier, Reid reiterated in a floor speech that he would be willing to negotiate with Boehner once the House passes measures reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling.
“Open the government, raise the debt ceiling, and we’ll talk about anything you want to talk about,” Reid said. “Stop threatening a catastrophic default on the nation’s bills.”
The Senate Democratic leader charged that Boehner reneged on a previous commitment to pass a “clean” government funding bill in the House, with no riders attacking the health-care law, if Democrats would accept the GOP’s budget number. Reid said he told Boehner that Democrats “hate your number” and wanted $70 billion more in spending but eventually agreed as a way to resolve the budget issue for a year.
But Boehner “didn’t live up to what he committed to doing,” Reid said.
Late Tuesday evening, the House voted on two measures that would pay federal employees currently on the job on time and launch a new bipartisan House-Senate working group to negotiate a broader set of fiscal issues. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) presented the plan during a Tuesday morning meeting with the House GOP conference. The bill authorizing payment of salaries to federal workers during the shutdown passed 420-to-0.
The new House-Senate panel would have a makeup similar to a joint congressional committee established in 2011, which was commonly known as the “supercommittee.” But the mandate for the new group would include addressing the debt limit and other fiscal concerns. Proposing a new panel is just the latest effort by Republicans to establish a framework for negotiations with the Senate and Obama.
The bill providing compensation for federal workers would ensure that federal prison guards, U.S. Capitol Police officers and staffers at other agencies currently on the job would be paid as scheduled for however long the partial government shutdown continues.
A separate bill passed by the House over the weekend ensures that furloughed, nonessential personnel would be paid after the impasse ends. That bill is awaiting a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Obama called Boehner at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, but no progress was reported from the call.
“The president called the speaker again today to reiterate that he won’t negotiate on a government-funding bill or debt-limit increase,” said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck.
According to a White House account of the call, Obama told Boehner he is “willing to negotiate with Republicans — after the threat of government shutdown and default have been removed — over policies that Republicans think would strengthen the country.” Obama expressed willingness to negotiate on “policies that expand economic opportunity, support private sector job creation, enhance the competitiveness of American businesses, strengthen the Affordable Care Act and continue to reduce the nation’s deficit,” the White House said.
Obama urged Boehner “to hold a vote in the House of Representatives on the Senate-passed measure that would reopen the federal government immediately,” the White House statement said. “Citing the Senate’s intention to pass a clean, yearlong extension of the debt limit this week, the President also pressed the Speaker to allow a timely up-or-down vote in the House to raise the debt limit with no ideological strings attached. He noted that only Congress has the authority to raise the debt limit and failure to do so would have grave consequences for middle class families and the American economy as a whole.”
Obama and Senate Democrats tried Monday to break the political logjam, advancing legislation that would raise the federal debt ceiling as soon as possible.
Democrats said they will attempt to force Republicans to agree to a long-term $1 trillion debt-limit increase to ensure that the government does not reach a point this month where it may be unable to pay its bills, risking its first default. They said they also may accept a short-term bill, perhaps lasting only weeks, if necessary to avoid going over the brink.
The Democratic push on the debt limit came as a partial government shutdown entered its second week with no solution in sight. New polling showed that the fiscal standoff is hurting Republicans far more than it is Obama, although no party is faring particularly well.
A Washington Post-ABC News survey found that 70 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Republicans are handling budget negotiations, up from 63 percent last week, with 24 percent approving.
Obama’s approval rating on budget matters ticked up slightly over the same time period — from 41 percent to 45 percent — but 51 percent disapprove. Obama’s Democratic colleagues in Congress are faring worse, with 61 percent of Americans disapproving, up from 56 percent before the shutdown.
In a hastily arranged visit Monday to the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Obama said he will not bow to Republicans’ demands that he enter negotiations with them or risk a continued shutdown or a default.
“I cannot do that under the threat that if Republicans don’t get 100 percent of their way, they’re going to either shut down the government or they are going to default on America’s debt,” he said.
Republicans remained undeterred, saying they would neither raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling nor reopen the government without first winning concessions.
Lawmakers have little time to resolve the impasse. After Oct. 17, the Treasury Department says it cannot guarantee that it can pay all of the government’s bills, and independent analysts say the government would have less than two weeks before a default.
Later this week, Reid hopes to open debate on a bill that would raise the debt limit, aides said. To do so, he would need the support of all 54 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, plus six Republicans — a goal that seemed possible Monday, but is far from assured.
Meanwhile, if any senator objects to the proposal, procedural hurdles would prevent the measure from clearing the Senate and reaching the House until Oct. 15 — two days before the Treasury Department’s deadline.
Several Republican senators left the door open to supporting a “clean” debt-limit bill, but said it would depend on whether Democrats were willing to enter talks on broader budget reforms.
“I don’t know what the dynamics are here. I don’t know what’s being offered. It’s too early,” said Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who nonetheless held out hope. “I’m going to have to wait and see.”
But senior GOP aides said any debt-limit proposal in the House is likely to need significant conservative sweeteners to be considered.
Zachary A. Goldfarb and William Branigin contributed to this report.