Boehner: Talks to Continue 'Throughout the Night'

Thursday, 10 Oct 2013 06:29 PM

By Todd Beamon

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House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday that "no final decisions were made" in a meeting with President Barack Obama on a GOP proposal to extend the nation's borrowing authority for six weeks while keeping the federal government temporarily shut down.

"This evening in the Roosevelt Room, the leaders laid out the House proposal to temporarily extend the debt limit, formally appoint budget negotiators, and begin immediate discussions over how to reopen the government," Boehner said in statement after the hourlong meeting at the White House. "No final decisions were made; however, it was a useful and productive conversation.

"The president and leaders agreed that communication should continue throughout the night," Boehner said. "House Republicans remain committed to good-faith negotiations with the president, and we are pleased there was an opportunity to sit down and begin a constructive dialogue tonight."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor described the session to reporters as "very useful . . . and we expect further conversations tonight.”

The White House also released a statement suggesting talks would continue.

"After a discussion about potential paths forward, no specific determination was made," the statement said. "The president looks forward to making continued progress with members on both sides of the aisle."

Boehner, who was among 20 Republicans who met with Obama at the White House, announced his proposal after meeting with rank-and-file legislators. The plan would raise the nation's $16.7 trillion debt limit through Nov. 22 in exchange for Obama agreeing to new talks on spending cuts and on overhauling the nation's tax code.

The proposal, however, would not have ended the partial federal shutdown. It also would require several modest changes to Obamacare, the president's signature domestic achievement.

Senate Democrats quickly declared the Boehner plan unacceptable.

"Not going to happen," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, standing outside the White House after he and fellow Democrats met with Obama.

The possibility of a deal to avert a federal financial default sent Wall Street indexes higher, with both the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor's 500 index  jumping 2.2 percent on Thursday. The Nsadaq index of over-the-counter trading rose 2.3 percent.

Reid's White House comments came at the end of the trading day. The markets have been lower for most of the week.

Obama had summoned congressional leaders to the White House for meetings starting on Wednesday, when he met with House Democrats. He met with Senate Democrats Thursday afternoon before the House GOP session. The president is scheduled to meet with Senate Republicans Friday morning.

"I would hope the president would look at this as an opportunity and a good-faith effort on our part to move halfway — halfway to what he's demanded — in order to have these conversations begin," Boehner told reporters after he presented the proposal to GOP lawmakers.

The day coincided with a dour warning from Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who told lawmakers that the prospect of default had already caused interest rates to rise — and that worse lay ahead.

Appearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Lew said the Treasury must pay Social Security and veterans benefits as well as salaries to active duty military troops during the second half of this month.

Failure to raise the debt limit by Oct. 17 "could put timely payment of all of these at risk,"  Lew said.

Meanwhile, the partial federal shutdown entered its 10th day on Thursday, idling 350,000 federal workers but not producing the type of widespread economic hardship that a default would mean.

After more than a week of lost tourism, some governors prevailed on the Obama administration to let states use their own money to pay for national parks —  Grand Canyon and Zion among them — to reopen.

The approval came with a catch, however: The Interior Department said it would not reimburse the states after the shutdown ended.

Some GOP lawmakers backed by the tea party claimed partial credit for the GOP retreat from defunding or delaying Obamacare, casting it as a way of finessing one problem so they could quickly resume their own campaign to deny financing for the healthcare plan.

At the White House earlier Thursday, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that President Obama would "likely sign" a short-term extension in the debt ceiling, and did not rule out him doing so even if it left the shutdown intact.

But some moderate Republicans complained that Boehner's plan should have allowed the government to reopen — while more staunch conservatives backed the speaker's plan.

Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho said that he and fellow tea party-backed Republicans deserved some acknowledgment for Boehner's latest plan to raise the debt limit without reopening the government.

"I actually went to Eric Cantor a couple days ago and I proposed this," Labrador said. "I said: 'You're going to think this is crazy but I, as a conservative, would be willing to vote for a debt ceiling for six weeks."

Sen. Ted Cruz, the conservative Texan who spoke against Obamacare on the Senate floor for 21 hours and 19 minutes last month, raised no objections to the Boehner plan.

Interviewed on radio station KFYO in Lubbock, Texas, he said: "My understanding is this is being driven by House conservatives who are quite reasonably saying, 'Listen, let's focus on Obamacare, on winning the fight on Obamacare . . . and let's push the debt ceiling a little further down the road so that it doesn't distract us from the fight we are in the middle of right now."

For his part, Reid has proposed a "clean" resolution that would raise the debt limit by $1.1 trillion, enough to prevent a recurrence of the current standoff until after the 2014 elections.

In remarks on the Senate floor during the day, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that Democratic measure "just won't fly . . . The American people can be persuaded to raise the debt ceiling, but they're not in any mood to simply hand over a blank check."

Since the standoff began more than two weeks ago, Republican demands have shifted — from completely defunding Obamacare to delaying its individual mandate for a year — while President Obama's position has remained essentially unchanged.

He had said he would veto any legislation to temporarily finance the government or raise the debt ceiling that included any language that affected Obamacare — and that his position was nonnegotiable.

Obama said he would be willing to negotiate on a range of issues, but only after the shutdown was ended and the debt limit raised.

But in recent days, the focus has shifted from the shutdown to the threat of default, and Republicans have spoken less frequently about insisting on concessions to Obamacare.
The call for negotiations on long-term deficit cuts would mark a return to basics for the House Republican majority.

Shortly after taking control in 2011, the rank and file initiated a series of demands to cut spending, culminating in an agreement with Obama that cut more than $2 trillion over a decade.

After four years of trillion-dollar deficits, the 2013 shortfall is expected to register below $700 billion.

At the same time, the nation's debt rises inexorably. It was $10.6 trillion when Obama took office during the worst recession in decades, and has grown by $6.1 trillion since then.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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