US President Barack Obama was due to host top House of Representatives Republicans yesterday to seek an opening in an impasse that has shut down much of the government and threatens a catastrophic federal default.
The White House meeting came as House Republican leaders were contemplating advancing a short-term debt limit increase designed to calm financial markets and allow more time to resolve the partial government shutdown that entered its 10th day.
The US is facing a first-ever default between Thursday next week and the end of the month.
A short-term debt limit measure was expected to be a topic at a closed-door House Republican meeting yesterday morning. It was unclear clear what conditions party leaders might seek to attach to the bill, if any, but conservatives have been consistently pushing top Republicans like Speaker John Boehner to add conditions beyond what Obama says he will accept.
Also, US Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew was heading to Capitol Hill to both give and get a public scolding. Lew’s appearance before the Senate Finance Committee promised to be yet another public restatement of the administration’s stance that Congress needs to reopen the government and lift the US borrowing cap before Obama will negotiate over the nation’s budget ills.
The debate over increasing the debt limit — required so Treasury can borrow more money to pay the government’s bills in full and on time — has already resulted in stock market losses, spiked the interest rate for one-month Treasury bills and prompted Fidelity Investments, the nation’s largest manager of money market mutual funds, to sell federal debt that comes due around the time the nation could hit its borrowing limit.
Wednesday featured lots of activity, but no progress toward ending the budget and debt limit impasses.
Obama had House Democrats over to the White House, while Republican conservatives heard a pitch from the House Budget Committee chairman, Republican Representative Paul Ryan, on his plan to extend the US borrowing cap for four to six weeks while jump-starting talks on a broader budget deal that could replace cuts to defense and domestic agency budgets with cuts to benefit programs like Medicare and reforms to the loophole-cluttered tax code. Curbs to the new health care reform law were not mentioned.
At the White House, Obama told House Democratic loyalists that he would still prefer a long-term increase in the nation’s US$16.7 trillion borrowing cap but that he is willing to sign a short-term increase to “give Boehner some time to deal with the Tea Party Wing of his party,” said Democratic Representative Peter Welch, referring to the conservative anti-tax group.
A midday meeting on Wednesday between the top House Republican and Democrat, meanwhile, yielded no progress. Rival aides to Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi even disagreed over who asked for the meeting. Aides said Pelosi had a long-ignored request for a meeting with Boehner that Boehner unexpectedly granted at short notice.
Obama invited the entire House Republican contingent to the White House yesterday, but Boehner opted to send a smaller squadron of about 20 mostly senior members, which prompted White House press secretary Jay Carney to issue an unusual statement criticizing the move to exclude Tea Party Republicans from the session.
“The president thought it was important to talk directly with the members who forced this economic crisis on the country about how the shutdown and a failure to pay the country’s bills could devastate the economy,” Carney said.
The frustrating standoff in Washington is weighing on each side’s poll numbers, but Republicans have been hurt the worst. A Gallup poll put the approval rating for the Republican Party at a record-low 28 percent. Polls have consistently said the Republicans deserve the greater share of blame for the shutdown.