News Column

Obama: Raise Debt Ceiling, Then We'll Talk

October 3, 2013

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President Obama (file photo)

President Obama said a budget deal was possible, but only after Republicans reopen the government without changing the health law and raise the U.S. debt limit.

Obama told GOP and Democratic congressional leaders during an hour-plus meeting at the White House Wednesday evening his position was firm.

The meeting ended with no resolution.

The White House said Obama was glad he and the leaders "were able to engage in this useful discussion."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the meeting "cordial but unproductive."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Obama reiterated "he will not negotiate."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pointed to Obama's offer to negotiate. Reid also said Senate Democrats would agree to spending at levels already passed by the House.

"My friend John Boehner cannot take 'yes' for an answer," Reid said.

Obama also explained his position to CNBC, saying he would agree to revive bipartisan talks toward a long-term budget deal without tax-rate increases, but only if Congress approves a budget for the fiscal year that started Tuesday and increases the debt ceiling to avoid default.

"As soon as we get a clean piece of legislation that reopens the government -- and there is a majority for that right now in the House of Representatives -- until we get that done, until we make sure that Congress allows Treasury to pay for things that Congress itself already authorized, we are not going to engage in a series of negotiations," he said.

Obama planned to take his argument on the road Thursday, visiting a suburban Maryland road-paving company to highlight the economic threat of a prolonged shutdown and a congressional failure to raise the government's $16.7 trillion borrowing limit in two weeks, the White House said.

Not raising the borrowing limit, or debt ceiling, by Oct. 17 -- the last day the Treasury Department estimates it is certain to have enough money to pay all its bills -- could produce a historic U.S. default on its national debt, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said.

A U.S. default, which has never happened before, would lead to a dramatic cut in federal spending and delays in Social Security checks, and could undermine the traditional U.S. role as a financial safe-haven, economists say.

Obama planned to speak of the shutdown and looming default Thursday not just in national and global terms, but also in how they would hurt small businesses, the White House said.

Obama was to speak at M. Luis Construction Co., a female- and minority-owned company in Rockville, about 15 miles northwest of Washington, at 10:40 a.m., the White House said.

House Republican lawmakers filtered in and out of Boehner's office Wednesday, some pleading for him to stand firm, others seeking a face-saving end to the shutdown, The New York Times said.

The House planned Thursday to pass measures financing veterans programs and paying inactive National Guard members and reservists -- a continuation of a GOP strategy to blunt the effect of the shutdown by funding discrete but popular parts of the government.

Senate Democratic leaders said they would not take up the measure, and the president has threatened to veto all such one-shot bills, insisting the government be fully reopened.

At the same time, one GOP lawmaker group uncomfortable with Boehner's standoff strategy met with him privately Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal said.

"We're looking for ways to break the stalemate and get the government back open as quickly as possible," Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., told the newspaper. "We're trying to have cooler minds prevail."

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Original headline: Obama: Pass budget, raise debt limit, then we'll talk


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