Republicans, Obama at standstill over government shutdown, debt limit

Updated at 6:38 p.m. ET

As the government shutdown entered its 12th day, House Republicans said Saturday that negotiations with President Obama have stalled and that it's now up to the Senate to figure out a way out of the stalemate.

The House Republican Conference met Saturday morning to mull the path forward after conversations between GOP leaders and the White House this week resulted in no agreement. The president has said he doesn't want to begin long-term budget negotiations with congressional Republicans until the debt limit is raised and the government is re-opened, something the House GOP hasn't agreed to so far.

Exiting the conference meeting, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman, said there was "no deal as far as we're concerned."

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the president refused to accept the offers put forward by House Republicans. "We'll do everything we can to make the point that we want to negotiate," he said.

There seemed to be a thaw in the stalemate the past two days, but with Saturday's announcement from House Republicans that talks have stalled, pessimism about coming up with a deal before Oct. 17, the date Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the country will run out of money, is growing.

There's a "very definite chance" we will hit October 17 without a deal, Rep. John Fleming, R-La., told reporters Saturday. "There's a definite chance we're going to go past the deadline."

On Saturday, the Senate failed to advance a Democratic proposal that aimed to lift the debt ceiling through the end of 2014 without any spending offsets. It was blocked on a 53 - 45 vote by Senate Republicans, who aren't supportive of a long-term, clean debt limit hike.

The White House condemned Republicans' rejection in a statement released shortly after the vote by press secretary Jay Carney. "It is unfortunate that the common sense, clean debt limit increase proposed by Senate Democrats was refused a yes or no vote today," he said. "This bill would have taken the threat of default off the table, and given our nation's businesses and the economy the certainty we need. With five days until the government runs out of borrowing authority, Congress needs to move forward with a solution that reopens the government and allows us to pay our bills so we can move on to the business of achieving a broader budget deal that creates jobs, grows the economy and strengthens the middle class."

Some Senate Republicans are rallying around a plan from Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., which focuses on reopening the government rather than raising the debt limit. That plan would fund the government for six months, repeal the medical device tax (part of Obamacare) and give federal agencies greater flexibility to absorb the spending cuts that began taking effect in March under sequestration.

That plan appeared to be dead in the water on Saturday afternoon, however, with Reid telling reporters that he appreciates Collins' proposal, but that it simply doesn't meet the requirements of a balanced deal.

"I appreciate her efforts...but the plan that she suggested that I've seen in writing is not going to go any place at this stage," he said. "They're not doing us a favor by reopening the government. They're not doing us a favor by extending the debt ceiling. That's part of our jobs."

From left, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and President Obama meet in the Oval Office of the White House Oct. 12, 2013, in Washington.
From left, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and President Obama meet in the Oval Office of the White House Oct. 12, 2013, in Washington.
AP Photo

Senate Democrats met with Mr. Obama at the White House on Saturday afternoon to continue moving the discussions forward.

Following the meeting, a Senate Democratic leadership aide said, "Senate Democratic leaders had a very productive meeting with President Obama and they remain fully united moving forward.

"The President and the leaders agreed that talks between Senate Democratic and Senate Republican leaders should continue in the coming days, but Democrats' position remains the same: Democrats are willing to negotiate on anything Republicans want to discuss as soon as we reopen the government and pay our bills."

Between the competing plans floated by various factions of Congress and by the White House, nobody has any idea how the chips will fall - including the lawmakers tasked with finding a solution.

Asked how the impasse will end as he was leaving a meeting with House and Senate GOP leaders Friday afternoon, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said, "If anybody tells you they know, I think they're probably not being completely straight with you."

Cornyn's agnosticism just about captures the pervasive uncertainty on Capitol Hill about the endgame. Despite the murky outlook, there are some tea leaves to read.

Most recently, the House Republican leadership offered a proposal to increase the debt limit for six weeks with no strings attached and to thereafter enter into budget negotiations. Mr. Obama didn't accept that offer, but the dialogue continued. A modified proposal they presented Friday would erect a framework for negotiations on a bigger budget deal. That offer was rebuffed as well - the president has signaled that a bigger budget deal should also include a mechanism to raise new revenue, which Republicans have resisted - but the two sides continued talking.

House Republicans are also continuing to push a series of bills that would reopen parts of the government while Congress seeks a broader budget deal to end the overall shutdown, a strategy that has been rebuffed by Senate Democrats and the president.

In the weekly GOP address on Saturday, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., pressed Democrats to support the piecemeal appropriations bills. "The House has passed more than a dozen bills providing funding for things we can all agree on: veterans, cancer research, National Guard, national parks, Head Start, food safety, flight safety, border security, nuclear weapon security and more," he said. "President Obama and Senate Democrats should back these bills immediately. Then the president should work with us on plans to reopen the entire government and make sure we do not default on our debts."

As the shutdown has dragged on, a growing chorus of Republicans, perhaps rattled by the dreadful poll numbers the shutdown has yielded for the GOP, have signaled support for a bill that would reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling without preconditions. On Saturday, House Democrats aimed to exploit the fissures in the GOP caucus by introducing a "discharge petition," which would compel the House to vote on a bill reopening the government and extending the debt ceiling if it is signed by a majority of House members. If all 200 Democrats sign on, they would need 18 Republicans to push the petition over the top and force a vote. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., described the petition as a chance for these wavering Republicans to put their money where their mouth is.

"This is a chance to show that they mean what they say," he said.

The White House, meanwhile, has signaled that the president would sign a short-term debt ceiling bill to avert the immediate threat of default but he would prefer a longer-term deal to more fully dispel the uncertainty caused by the recurrent fiscal brawls.

Mr. Obama continued carrying that torch in his weekly address on Saturday. "It wouldn't be wise, as some suggest, to just kick the debt ceiling can down the road for a couple months, and flirt with a first-ever intentional default right in the middle of the holiday shopping season," he said, warning that if the nation defaults, "it would amount to a new tax - a Republican default tax - on every family and business in America."

"There is no good reason anyone should keep suffering through this shutdown," he said. "It's hurting the very citizens that our government exists to serve. That's why a growing number of reasonable Republicans say it should end now."

The president also stressed that the dual crises currently gripping Washington - a government shutdown and a potential default on the nation's debt - are not par for the course, even for a political class so predisposed to bickering.

"Because it's easy to get lost in or give up on the political back-and-forth, I want you to remember: This is not normal," he said. "Our government is closed for the first time in 17 years. A political party is risking default for the first time since the 1700s. This is not normal. That's why we have to put a stop to it."

  • Jake Miller

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