President Barack Obama told a meeting of business executives that a faction of Republicans in Congress is holding hostage a deal on the budget and the federal debt ceiling to engage in an “ideological fight.”
Obama appealed to members of the Business Roundtable to use their influence on lawmakers to break the stalemate, with a deadline for reaching a budget deal 13 days away and the government closing in on its debt ceiling.
“You have never seen, in the history of the U.S., the debt ceiling, or the threat of not raising the debt ceiling, being used to extort a president or a governing party, in trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and have nothing to do with the debt,” Obama said in Washington.
The two top Republicans in the House, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, said just before Obama spoke that they will insist on stripping funding from the president’s health-care law as the price for any agreement on the budget or the debt limit. Obama has rejected that condition.
A failure to reach a deal on funding federal operations may result in a government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. By mid-October, the government will bump up against the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling and without an increase the government is at risk of default.
Obama’s remarks at the Business Roundtable continued a theme he set out Sept. 16 at the White House, when he accused congressional Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, of focusing on slashing spending and trying to block the phasing in of his health-care law at the expense of measures to ensure economic growth.
A spokesman for Boehner took issue with Obama, who said the debt limit shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip.
“The president only uses these scare tactics to avoid having to show the courage needed to deal with our debt crisis,” Brendan Buck, the spokesman, said in a statement anticipating Obama’s remarks today. “Every major deficit deal in the last 30 years has been tied to a debt limit increase, and this time should be no different.”
The Business Roundtable is composed of chief executive officers from U.S. companies with a combined $7.4 trillion in annual revenues and 16 million employees, according to its website. Its president is former Michigan Governor John Engler, a Republican, while the head of the group’s executive committee is Boeing Co. (BA) Chief Executive Officer James McNerney.
Obama also conducted a question-and-answer session with the executives in private.
Carney said he doesn’t expect Obama to solicit executives’ opinions as he considers a nominee to lead the Federal Reserve, while “obviously, anybody that meets with him is free to raise any issue that he or she wants.”
Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, a leading contender for the Fed post, withdrew his name from consideration on Sept. 15 as he faced opposition from some of Obama’s Democratic allies. Fed Vice Chairman Janet Yellen has emerged has the strong favorite for the job, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists.
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