Congressional leaders finally have to climb out of their sandbox
On Day Two of the government shutdown, President Barack Obama on Wednesday invited House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and other congressional leaders to the White House for a meeting late this afternoon--and Boehner has accepted.
The president, who has canceled part of his planned Asian trip, will urge the House to pass a “clean” continuing resolution, absent what Obama has called “ideological demands” designed to undermine or kill the Affordable Care Act, so that the government could reopen, according to White House officials.
Obama will also urge Congress to act to raise the debt ceiling to pay the bills we have already incurred and avoid devastating consequences on our economy,” a White House official told the Washington Post.
“We’re pleased the president finally recognizes that his refusal to negotiate is indefensible," a spokesman for Boehner said in a statement. "It’s unclear why we’d be having this meeting if it’s not meant to be a start to serious talks between the two parties.”
Amid speculation that the shutdown could last for two weeks or more, the news that the president wants to sit down with Republican and Democratic leaders to try to break the ice is heartening. For the past week, the two sides have engaged in a bitter war of words over the president’s signature health program and who was more culpable for the fiscal crisis. But with emotions still running high and Republicans determined to find a way to thwart full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a quick resolution to the deadlock seems unlikely.
With the Republicans getting much of the blame so far for a shutdown that has furloughed more than 800,000 federal workers and shuttered national parks, monuments, museums and the National Zoo, the GOP will need some kind of face-saving resolution before they sign on.
The immediate challenge is to somehow pass a short-term spending bill to reopen the government while the two sides negotiate a longer-term spending solution. House Republicans for the past week have peppered the Senate with a series of continuing resolutions that were contingent on either defunding or dismantling the Affordable Care Act – a controversial program that was formally launched on Tuesday with the opening of on-line insurance exchanges in every state and the District of Columbia.
The House GOP’s latest strategy is to pass a series of narrow funding measures, to reopen the national parks and museums, fully fund veterans’ programs, allow the D.C. government to operate unfettered, reopen vital programs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and fully fund the National Guard to show they are being reasonable and responsive to public complaints. They have scheduled votes on these provisions this afternoon.
The White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-NV) refuse to go along with this approach, which they say is tantamount to allowing conservatives and Tea Party adherents in the House to pick and choose which parts of government to keep open.
Since the shutdown occurred, House Republicans have blocked the ability of Democrats in that chamber to push through an agenda that could exploit the split in the GOP caucus. The Republican motion to form a conference committee late Monday was structured--in defiance of standard protocol--to prevent House Democrats from calling for a vote on the “clean” continuing resolution passed by the Senate that excludes any reference to Obamacare.
When House Republicans on Tuesday failed to pass piecemeal spending bills on veterans programs, the National Parks Service, and the local District of Columbia government, they adopted rules that limited the ability of Democrats to debate the measures. As a result of this tactic, the votes required a two-thirds super majority to pass and failed.
The larger concern now is a looming deadline for raising the $16.7 trillion national debt ceiling to avoid a first-ever default by the Treasury that could wreck the economy. The Treasury Department announced Tuesday it was executing final emergency measures before it must raise the debt ceiling on Oct. 17. House Republicans reportedly are considering ways to merge negotiations on the debt limit with a continuing resolution to re-open the shuttered government.
The debt ceiling will be a central point of discussion when Obama meets with Boehner, Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) at 5:30 p.m. today.
The Fiscal Times’ Josh Boak contributed to this article