Boehner Insists on Health Law Changes to End Shutdown

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said the way to end the government shutdown would be for Democrats to negotiate with him and accept changes that would produce “fairness” under the Affordable Care Act.

Boehner, speaking to reporters after a private meeting with House Republicans, criticized an unidentified White House official quoted in The Wall Street Journal today as saying it doesn’t matter to the administration how long the shutdown lasts because Democrats are winning.

“This isn’t some damn game,” Boehner, 63, said in remarks that continued the partisan standoff. “The American people don’t want their government shut down and neither do I.”

The speaker, an Ohio Republican, is trying to unite Republicans around a plan to end the budget impasse, raise the nation’s borrowing limit, and achieve as many of the party’s priorities as they can.

The shutdown, in its fourth day, has furloughed about 800,000 federal employees and is becoming a prolonged deadlock that is merging with the debt-ceiling debate.

Lockheed Martin Corp., the largest U.S. government contractor, said today it will furlough about 3,000 employees on Oct. 7 because of effects of the shutdown, including the inability of workers to get to their jobs in shuttered government facilities and a halt to government inspections.

Procedural Move

House Democrats will try to use a procedural move known as a discharge petition to force a vote on a bill to end the shutdown without policy conditions. The move is a long shot; it wouldn’t result in a vote until Oct. 14 and would require Republicans who support it to break with Boehner in ways they haven’t on other procedural matters.

There are two major problems for Boehner in linking the spending and debt-ceiling debates: President Barack Obama says he won’t negotiate and the 232 members of Boehner’s caucus can’t agree on what they want.

One of the hardliners, Republican Representative John Fleming of Louisiana, said Boehner told members at the meeting he had no intention of “rolling over” to Democrats’ demands for spending and debt-limit bills without policy conditions. He said his constituents aren’t concerned about the shutdown.

“All they want to talk about was the drag of Obamacare,” Fleming told reporters. “I don’t think many of my constituents even know that there is a shutdown, or even care.”

‘Same Story’

Representative Peter King of New York, who wants a more conciliatory approach and has been rebuffed, said after the meeting that “it’s the same story.”

Republicans’ most recent proposal for opening the government would postpone for one year the mandate for individuals to purchase health insurance, mirroring the delay the administration granted to employers.

“We’re not through negotiating,” said Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas. “We’re just through negotiating with ourselves.”

Obama last night called off a trip to Asia next week so he can focus on persuading Republicans to vote on a spending measure to open the government, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

Democrats say the debt ceiling is no leverage at all, because both parties know it has to be raised this month to prevent global economic harm and because Obama won’t yield and repeat the negotiations he entered in 2011.

‘Foolish’ Road

“This is a trip down a road that is so foolish,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said of the Republican position. “We need not be there.”

Obama yesterday reiterated his stance that he won’t sit down with Republicans unless they open the government and raise the debt ceiling.

U.S. stocks rose on optimism lawmakers would come to an agreement. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 0.6 percent at 2:04 p.m. in New York. Ten-year Treasury yields rose from almost a seven-week low, increasing four basis points to 2.65 percent.

The effects of the shutdown continued to ripple through the government and the country.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics didn’t release today’s report on unemployment, repeating what it did in the 1996 shutdown. U.S. efforts to enforce sanctions on Iran are being hurt because of Treasury Department furloughs, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said yesterday.

Other government services continued, including Social Security benefits, mail delivery and air traffic control.

Debt Ceiling

The Treasury Department yesterday reported that breaching the debt ceiling could have catastrophic results, such as higher interest rates and slower economic growth, for decades.

The U.S. will run out of borrowing authority on Oct. 17 and will have $30 billion in cash after that. The country would be unable to pay all its bills, including benefits, salaries and interest, sometime between Oct. 22 and Oct. 31, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Boehner said he doesn’t want the U.S. to default on its debt. He also said he will reject Obama’s call for a debt-limit increase free of policy conditions.

“If we’re going to raise the amount of money we can borrow, we ought to do something about our spending problem and the lack of economic growth in our country,” he said.

House Republicans continued their strategy of passing bills to fund parts of the government. The House has now approved five measures with bipartisan votes.

Piecemeal Bills

Republicans released text for 10 more proposals, including bills that would fund infant nutrition, the Food and Drug Administration, intelligence agencies, weather monitoring and Head Start preschool programs.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the House will consider a bill to give retroactive pay to furloughed federal employees and the White House said it would support such a bill.

Republicans’ best hope was to keep sending piecemeal bills and wait for public sentiment to change, said Representative Hal Rogers of Kentucky, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“The public is going to finally say to the president, ‘Look, at least sit down and talk,’” he said.

Giving in now would only embolden Republicans to seek more concessions, said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat.

“The hope is maybe once the Tea Party has realized it’s not getting its way on shutting down the government, that they won’t try the same stunt on the debt ceiling,” Schumer said. “If they do, by the way, the heat on them will be much, much greater than it is now.”

‘Only Way’

Obama said the “only way out” is for Boehner to let the bipartisan House majority vote on a bill to open the government that leaves his signature health-care law untouched.

Obama, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, walked today from the White House to a sandwich shop on Pennsylvania Avenue frequented by government workers, many now furloughed.

“This shutdown could be over today,” Obama said. “We know there are the votes for it in the House.” There is “no winning” for either political party when people are out of work, he said.

He bought sandwiches for himself and Biden, noting that the restaurant, Taylor Gourmet, was offering a 10 percent discount to furloughed federal workers.

Boehner, for his part, has little room to maneuver. Republicans have a 232-200 majority in the House, which means they can lose support from only 15 of their members on measures that fail to attract any Democrats.

Republicans Split

Some Republicans, taking a hard line against taxes, want to use the debt ceiling as leverage to gain concessions from Obama. Others embrace a more conciliatory stance and are urging Boehner to drop demands for changes to the Affordable Care Act and allow the government to open. What the largest group -- 100 or so Republicans not clearly aligned with either side -- can support has yet to be determined.

Last month, Boehner outlined a debt-limit strategy that included lighter regulations, cuts in entitlement programs and approval of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline.

The outline added means-testing Medicare, changing malpractice law and eliminating social services block grants. Also being considered was a proposal to eliminate a requirement that gives regulators authority to seize and dismantle financial firms if their failure could damage the stability of the U.S. financial system.

Representative Raul Labrador said he was having “pretty serious” discussions with top Republicans about combining the spending debates and what a deal might look like.

“As long as we understand we need to get something” for the stopgap spending measure “and something for the debt ceiling, then everything’s on the table,” the Idaho Republican said yesterday in an interview.

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