President Barack Obama summoned the top four leaders of Congress to the White House today for the first high-level talks on reopening the partially shut U.S. government amid few signs of a resolution.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said the bipartisan Oval Office meeting at 5:30 p.m. wouldn’t be a negotiation.
“He’s asking for nothing -- nothing -- from Republicans,” Carney said. “He is attaching zero demands to the general proposition that Congress should simply open the government.”
Since the government entered a partial shutdown yesterday, Republicans have been trying to get Obama to the negotiating table and to back off his insistence on a short-term spending bill and debt-limit increase without policy conditions.
They have been trying to use the lapse in funding that began with the new fiscal year yesterday to dent Obama’s signature 2010 health-care law.
At today’s meeting, Obama will be joined by House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat; Vice President Joseph Biden and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew.
“Just yesterday, the president reaffirmed that he would not negotiate with Congress, and Senate Democrats actually voted not to negotiate,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell. “So frankly, we’re a little confused as to the purpose of this meeting.”
House Republicans are divided between hard-liners aligned with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who are insisting on confrontation over the health-care law, and at least 15 others who say they would support the Senate Democrats’ spending bill, which would end the shutdown without conditions attached.
One member of that group, Representative Peter King of New York, said in an interview that he met privately with Boehner to urge him to allow a vote on the Senate bill.
According to King, Boehner asked for more time.
“I think the plan is for the Cruz Republicans to exhaust themselves,” King said.
Ahead of the White House meeting, Reid said he had a “cordial” telephone call with Boehner and sent the speaker a letter urging him to accept the Senate’s short-term spending bill and then negotiate on the entire budget.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said negotiating after Democrats get what they want is “not much of an offer.”
The U.S. government started a partial shutdown yesterday and must raise the U.S. debt limit this month to ensure the government has enough money to pay all its bills.
Stocks fell and Treasuries rose, a day after as many as 800,000 federal workers were sent home with no paychecks and parks and other services were shuttered across the country.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (SPX) slipped 0.3 percent as of 3 p.m. in New York. The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield fell four basis points to 2.62 percent at 3:24 p.m., according to Bloomberg Bond Trader prices.
House Republicans, trying to force bargaining with Democrats over the shutdown impasse, are bringing five partial-funding measures to floor votes today. The proposals drew immediate veto threats from the White House.
On the list are the three measures that failed to win enough votes through an expedited process yesterday that would reopen parks and the Department of Veterans Affairs and allow Washington’s city government to spend its money.
Another two -- funding for the National Institutes of Health and to pay the National Guard and Reserve forces -- are set to be considered. House Republicans are planning to block procedural attempts by Democrats to offer a bill without policy conditions, a congressional aide said on condition of anonymity.
The move is designed to blunt some of the most visible effects of the shutdown and compel Democrats to choose between popular programs and their insistence on a full resumption of government funding.
“It is the small steps that can often move us toward a consensus,” said Representative Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican.
Calling the Republicans’ ideas “cockamamie,” Reid said the Senate will reject the piecemeal approach driven by what he called “modern-day anarchists” in the House.
Reid also said the Senate would consider a debt ceiling bill without policy conditions before the government runs out of borrowing authority Oct. 17. The government will be unable to pay its bills with cash sometime between Oct. 22 and Oct. 31, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“Speaker Boehner is the one person who can end the Tea Party shutdown,” said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who said Boehner was an “accomplice” and a “puppet” of Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
White House officials announced today that Obama is shortening his planned trip for meetings with leaders in Asia, canceling stops in Malaysia and the Philippines because of the shutdown.
The furlough of about 800,000 federal employees and the closing of offices, parks and museums may cost the U.S. at least $300 million a day in lost economic output at the start, according to IHS Inc. (IHS)
Though that’s a fraction of the country’s $15.7 trillion annual economy, the effects may multiply over time as consumers and businesses defer purchases and other spending plans.
Both sides are jockeying for the political high ground in the standoff. Democrats said the nation was being taken hostage by the Republicans’ Tea Party faction, while the Republicans faulted Senate Democrats and Obama for being unwilling to negotiate over any proposal to delay or curtail the health-care act, which opened for insurance enrollment yesterday.
Unlike past fiscal feuds, this dispute is more about the health law than the overall amount of government spending. Democrats say they have already made a concession by accepting spending levels set under the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, which first went into effect earlier this year and were part of the deal to avoid a 2011 default.
The U.S. budget deficit in June was 4.3 percent of gross domestic product, down from 10.1 percent in February 2010 and the narrowest since November 2008, when Obama was elected to his first term, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from the Treasury Department and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Democrats are counting on the split to force Boehner to allow a vote on that short-term spending bill, which probably would pass with the support of most Democrats and some Republicans.
Flanked by furloughed employees of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Weather Service, Democrats today pointed out that many federal workers already have a smaller income in 2013 because of the across-the-board spending cuts that have idled some agency workers for more than a week.
Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said 300,000 federal workers in his state, Maryland and the District of Columbia are hostage to a small group of House Republicans who want to keep the fight over the health-care law going indefinitely.
“We’re going to put our economy on the skids because they won’t get their way,” Warner said.
The effects of the partial government include the closure of Internal Revenue Service call centers. About 10 to 15 percent of the 34,500 employees of a U.S. unit of London-based BAE Systems Plc may be affected by the shutdown.
Octogenarian veterans ignored barricades around the World War II memorial on Washington’s Mall yesterday to view the outdoor site. National parks and museums, though, will stay shuttered.
Other services will continue uninterrupted. Social Security and Medicare benefits will be paid. U.S. troops will remain at their posts around the world and will be paid under a bill Obama signed on Sept. 30. Air-traffic controllers and airport security screeners will keep working.
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