WASHINGTON, D.C.—After weeks of talking past each other, congressional leaders and President Barack Obama talked to each other Wednesday evening—only to emerge evidently no closer to a deal to halt the government shutdown.
A White House meeting appeared to do little to affect the stalemate between Republicans and Democrats, as leaders from both parties amplified their charged rhetoric by blaming each other for the impasse over funding.
Republicans, led by tea party conservatives in the House, have demanded that anti-Obamacare provisions be attached to any government spending plan, a strategy that Democrats have called a non-starter.
“At times like this, the American people expect their leaders to come together to find ways to resolve their differences,” House Speaker John Boehner said after what he described as a “polite conversation” over Washington’s fiscal stalemate. “The president reiterated one more time tonight that he will not negotiate.”
A few minutes later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claimed that it was Boehner—not the president or his fellow Democrats—who have refused to talk.
Reid said Democratic leaders offered Boehner “a lifeline” by setting up negotiations “about anything that you want to talk about” so long as the House agrees to reopen the government first.
“I thought that they were concerned about the long-term fiscal affairs of this country. And we said, ‘we are too. Let’s talk about it,’” the Nevada Democrat said. “My friend, John Boehner … cannot take yes for an answer.”
The back-and-forth suggested little movement over a government shutdown that began Tuesday. Nor has there been any sign of a breakthrough regarding the next budget crisis—whether Congress votes to lift the nation’s debt ceiling.
In an interview with CNBC prior to the meeting, Obama said he was “prepared to negotiate on anything” regarding the federal budget—but only after Congress passes “a clean piece of legislation that reopens the government” and allows the “Treasury to pay for things that Congress itself already authorized.”
“Am I exasperated?” Obama said of Boehner, who is under pressure from fiscal hawks, and is refusing to let the House vote on the Senate-approved spending plan. “I am absolutely exasperated, because this is entirely unnecessary.”
Obama and Democrats accuse Republicans of using the need to fund the government and increase the debt ceiling as leverage for defunding or delaying the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
“If we get in the habit where a few folks, an extr-emist wing of one party … are allowed to extort concessions based on a threat of undermining the full faith and credit of the United States, then any president that comes after me … will find themselves unable to govern effectively,” Obama said. “And that is not something that I’m going to allow to happen.”
Shutdown means furloughs for up to 800,000
The GOP-led House didn’t rest on its laurels Wednesday—pushing through piecemeal spending measures that would fund specific programs, although there’s no indication they will go anywhere in the Democratic-led Senate.
The incremental approach pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas seeks to pressure Democrats to approve spending for programs that Republicans like, but not Obamacare.
An initial effort Tuesday failed because the short-term proposals comprising a tiny portion of the overall federal budget lacked the necessary two-thirds majority support due to Democratic opposition.
But on Wednesday, the House did manage to pass—with majority support—bills to fund national parks, the National Institutes of Health and District of Columbia operations.
Obama has signaled he’d veto those measures should they reach his desk. That’s unlikely given that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has dismissed the approach as “reckless and irresponsible.”
Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York said the easiest solution was for the House to approve the spending proposal for the entire government sent over by the Senate, which lacks any of the anti-Obamacare provisions demanded by Cruz and his allies.
Congresswoman Janice Hahn of the 44th District said the federal government shutdown is needlessly disrupting people’s lives. She also said that funding individual programs and departments is a matter of picking winners and losers.
“Fundamentally the people of the United States of America, if they deserve anything, deserve a government to be open, to be of the people, by the people and for the people,” Hahn said.
“Why should we pick winners and losers? Everyone is a loser, when the government shuts down. Why don’t we open the government so that everyone can get back to their lives,” asks the San Pedro Democrat, who added that constituents facing an emergency as a result of the federal shut down, can call her office at (310) 831-1799 for possible help.
“Republicans are gambling with the American economy to make an ideological point,” charges Congresswoman Maxine Waters of the 43rd District. “Each day this shutdown continues risks further irreparable damage to our financial system, our economy and our middle class.”
Waters is particularly concerned about the financial impacts.
“Even a short shutdown threatens job creation, harms small businesses, and leaves families with uncertainty and instability.
“I am seriously concerned that a shutdown will cause additional delays in the already long overdue implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act. Furloughs at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission will undermine its ability to regulate the derivatives market–and will likely further postpone the release of several important derivatives trading rules. The Volker Rule, which seeks to end the reckless practice of banks placing high-risk bets with taxpayer dollars, could also be delayed.”
Congresswoman Karen Bass notes: “Sadly, the shutdown is already threatening the most vulnerable people in our community. A spokesman for California’s WIC program announced that an extended shutdown will cause significant problems for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) which helps feed more than 300,000 low-income Californian women and their children. I have also heard firsthand from federal employees who live in my district—many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck. Americans do not deserve—and can’t afford—to lose pay while Republicans obstruct the government and make reckless, irresponsible demands.
“I am extremely frustrated that my Republican colleagues have decided that threatening health care and basic government services is more important than the mothers and infants who rely on WIC funding, more important than the 800,000 plus federal workers who are furloughed during a shutdown, and more important than expanding healthcare access for uninsured Americans. It’s time for the Republicans to stop playing political games and start taking a responsible approach to governing.”
First shutdown in nearly 18 years
Both parties have refused to budge from their visions for the budget and, beyond that, healthcare reform. The Democratic-led Senate, for instance, has rejected four separate House GOP spending proposals that would either delay or defund Obamacare—insisting that the Republican-led House pass a Senate approved measure to continue funding the government without add-ons or qualifications.
In addition to the government shutdown, the first since a 21-day stalemate during the Clinton administration some 18 years ago, also looming is the Oct.. 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling. Obama and congressional leaders all say that no one wants the stalemate to spread to that issue, which could mean a U.S. default on debt payments. But no progress has occurred on finding a solution.
Tom Cohen | CNN