Obama Sets News Conference as Congress Debates Debt Limit

President Barack Obama scheduled a 2 p.m. news conference in Washington as Senate Democrats said they plan to introduce a bill to raise the debt ceiling, which would need Republican votes to advance.

Obama will take questions in the White House briefing room on a day when he called House Speaker John Boehner to “reiterate that he won’t negotiate on a government-funding bill or debt-limit increase,” said Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesman.

The White House, in a statement, urged Boehner to allow a vote on raising the debt limit and repeated that only Congress can authorize more borrowing. Obama is willing to negotiate after Republicans end the shutdown and remove the risk of default, the statement said.

The sniping came as lawmakers are taking the first tentative steps toward resolving the standoff. Both sides are exploring actions that will be needed to end the week-old shutdown and raise the debt limit before U.S. borrowing authority lapses Oct. 17.

Senate Democrats will introduce a bill today that would raise the debt ceiling for a year, said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat. They are planning a test vote before the end of this week.

Six Republicans

To succeed, they’ll need support from at least six Republicans on procedural votes. They’ve gotten backing from one Republican, while several others haven’t ruled out the possibility.

Risk appetites in U.S. capital markets diminished amid the U.S. budget impasse, pushing Treasury one-month bill rates to the highest since 2008 and Internet stocks to the biggest losses in two years.

Rates on one-month bills reached 0.34 percent, the highest since October 2008, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slipped 0.8 percent to 1,662.77 at 1:36 p.m. in New York. The Nasdaq Internet Index tumbled 3.8 percent, the most since November 2011. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index added 0.3 percent, paring an earlier rally of 0.6 percent, with China’s benchmark index rising more than 1 percent as trading resumed after a holiday. The yen slid 0.2 percent against the dollar.

Test Vote

The Senate Democrats’ plan emerged as Gene Sperling, the director of Obama’s National Economic Council, opened another route toward at least a temporary resolution. He declined to rule out a short debt-limit extension while reiterating the administration’s preference for a longer-term agreement.

House Republicans, who had previously discussed pairing a debt-limit increase with a list of party priorities, haven’t released legislation or set a time line for action. Instead, they’re planning to vote to appoint a working group of House members and senators to settle the multiple impasses.

“The American people are watching an unwillingness by one side to negotiate and compromise,” Representative Tom McClintock, a California Republican, told reporters in Washington today. “They are watching utterly vindictive actions by the administration to intensify the pain of the shutdown and I think they watching the collapse of the administration’s signature program, Obamacare.”

House Democrats rejected the idea, saying it would recreate the 2011 bipartisan supercommittee that was deadlocked.

“We don’t need a supercommittee,” said Representative Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat. “The votes exist right now” to reopen the government.

Republican Senators

Still to be determined is whether House Republicans will consider a vote to raise the debt-ceiling this week or wait for the Senate to act, said two Republican congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss party strategy.

If all Senate Democrats along with six Republicans vote for giving Obama authority, they could send a debt-limit increase without policy conditions to the Republican-controlled House early next week. That would put pressure on Boehner, who opposes a clean debt-limit bill.

“We’ve got a situation where you have a calendar running, you have people who are frustrated and upset, and so let’s figure it out,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said in an interview at the Capitol yesterday. “We shouldn’t be dismissing anything.”

Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, wouldn’t take a position on a clean debt-ceiling increase when asked by reporters yesterday. Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, didn’t commit his support either.

Kirk Supports

Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois will support a clean debt-limit increase. About a half-dozen others -- including Murkowski, John McCain of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine -- kept open the option of voting for a debt-ceiling increase without conditions or helping one pass.

None of the proposals being floated has been embraced by both parties and all face long odds.

The chance of a U.S. government default is “reasonably high,” Bruce Ratner, chairman of developer Forest City Ratner Cos., said in an interview on Bloomberg Television today. There’s a “small group of people who don’t have an understanding of how serious it is,” he said, adding that “the ramifications are huge.”

Bruce Josten, the chief lobbyist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that the spending bill and the debt-limit increase are “must-pass” bills.

“The debt ceiling specifically must pass on a timely basis to avoid inflicting substantial and enduring damage on the U.S. economy,” he said.

Head Start

The partial shutdown, which began Oct. 1, has shuttered government services such as Head Start preschool programs and national parks and furloughed federal employees. Other functions, such as mail delivery and Social Security benefits, are continuing.

Obama reiterated yesterday that he won’t negotiate with Republicans over the shutdown and the debt-limit increase, which have merged into a single fight that has proven intractable so far. Republicans are insisting on changing the 2010 Affordable Care Act, while Obama refuses to engage in discussions about tying policy conditions to opening the government or raising the debt limit.

Borrowing Authority

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

The House has been passing separate funding bills for parts of the government, including the National Institutes of Health and national parks. Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have rejected those measures.

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