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Congressional leaders, Obama meet; still no shutdown deal

Oct. 2, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks to the media following a meeting with President Obama at the White House in Washington on Oct. 2, the second day of the government shutdown. (Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON — President Obama and congressional Republican leaders did not resolve the government shutdown during a 70-minute meeting at the White House on Wednesday.

Obama and Senate Democrats “will not negotiate,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who again called for a one-year delay of aspects of the new health care plan as part of a new spending plan.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the White House meeting “cordial, but unproductive.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, who also met with Obama, said his chamber will negotiate with House Republicans on health care and other issues as soon as they vote to re-open the government.

Boehner “cannot take yes for an answer,” Reid told reporters at the White House.

Earlier in the day, Obama said he is “exasperated” by the two-day-old shutdown, and blamed Republicans for trying to “extort” a delay and de-funding of the health care plan.

“Absolutely, I’m exasperated, because this is entirely unnecessary,” Obama told CNBC in an interview.

Citing a series of budget battles throughout his presidency, Obama said on CNBC that “I have bent over backwards to work with the Republican Party and have purposely kept my rhetoric down.”

During the meeting with congressional leaders, Obama was expected to call on House Republicans to pass a new spending plan without any restrictions on the new health care law.

As some GOP members seek to delay or de-fund the health care law as part of a budget deal, Obama said an “extremist wing” of one party should not be allowed to “extort” concessions in way that delays funding for much of the government.

Boehner repeated his call for a one-year delay of some provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

A White House official familiar with the president’s plans said Obama planned to urge Boehner and the House to pass a “clean” congressional resolution with no special health care provisions, in order to reopen the government.

Obama also would “call on Congress to act to raise the debt ceiling to pay the bills we have already incurred and avoid devastating consequences on our economy,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting has not yet taken place.

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to describe the meeting as a negotiation, calling it instead “a conversation about the essential need to reopen the government.”

Despite the differences, members of both parties called the White House meeting valuable. Boehner called it “polite,” while House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said it was “worthwhile.”

In a statement, McConnell said, “while I appreciated the opportunity to speak directly with the President about this pressing issue, I was disappointed that he had little interest in negotiating a solution or in encouraging Senate Democrats to agree to the House request for a conference.”

Obama and aides had indicated that the White House would not negotiate with Republicans on major budget items until the shutdown and debt ceiling issues are resolved.

The partial shutdown of the government began at midnight Monday, when the Republican-run House and Democratic-run Senate failed to agree on a new spending plan.

The House has passed several versions of a spending bill that includes a delay in the health care law; Obama and Senate Democrats say that is unacceptable.

Republicans have called for a House-Senate conference committee to resolve the impasse. Democrats have refused, saying the GOP is trying to use the budget process to gut the new health care law.

The White House meeting also previewed another looming showdown over the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling, which the Treasury Department says it will hit on Oct. 17.

Without an increase in the debt ceiling, Obama has said the government will be unable to borrow money to repay its obligations, creating a default that will harm the economy worldwide. He also said he will not negotiate with the Republicans over the need to raise the debt ceiling.

In his CNBC interview, Obama said that “when you have a situation in which a faction is willing to potentially default on U.S. government obligations, then we are in trouble.”

The president also said that Wall Street should be concerned about both the shutdown and the prospect of a default.

White House spokesman Carney said Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will speak with the congressional leaders about the economic damage done by a near-default and debt ceiling breach in August 2011. Back then, House Republicans voted to increase the debt ceiling as part of an overall budget deal.

As for the current shutdown, Carney said the president will not seek any concessions from the Republican leaders; he will only ask them to open the government. “It’s quite literally the least they can do,” Carney said.

Obama discussed both the debt ceiling and the government shutdown in a mid-day meeting with the Financial Services Forum, a group of CEOs.

Afterward that meeting, Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO of the Goldman Sachs Group, said it’s fine for lawmakers to “litigate” political issues, but the debt ceiling should not be used a “cudgel” to seek concessions.

Failure to pay the nation’s bills — default — would roil financial markets worldwide, and damage economic recovery in the United States, Blankfein said.

“There’s a precedent for a government shutdown,” Blankfein said. “There’s no precedent for a default.”

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