After a taking the weekend off, President Barack Obama resumed his public pounding of House Republicans on Monday even as a top aide laid out a possible avenue for defusing the fiscal fight that has frozen parts of the government and threatens a federal default.
Speaking during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Obama disputed Speaker John A. Boehner’s claim that there are not enough votes in the House to pass legislation reopening the government unless Republicans first win concessions from the White House.
“The truth of matter is, there are enough Republican and Democratic votes in the House of Representatives right now to end this shutdown immediately with no partisan strings attached. The House should hold that vote today,” Obama said. “Just vote. Let every member of Congress vote their conscience, and they can determine whether or not they want to shut the government down.”
Obama’s visit was part of a strategy to have the president keep publicly discussing the shutdown, although there appear to be no talks, public or private, on ending it. Obama and his aides put the onus on Boehner, saying he needs first reopen the government and address the crisis around the corner — lifting the debt ceiling — before negotiations can begin. The federal government is due to hit the ceiling around Oct. 17, risking the first federal default in modern history.
National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling said Monday that Obama was open to broad negotiations, if Republican leaders would first agree to remove the threat of default.
“He is willing to negotiate on sequester replacement, on a small, medium or large agreement. He has said he is willing to negotiate on how to strengthen the Affordable Care Act,” Sperling said at a breakfast sponsored by Politico.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that the comment was not a new posture, but stressed that the White House would not try to dictate the size of a debt-limit increase. Carney endorsed a Senate Democratic plan that would cover federal borrowing for the next year, but said the president has never ruled out a shorter time frame.
The president’s position “has not been raise the debt ceiling for a certain amount of time,” Carney said. “It has been raise the debt ceiling without drama or delay.”
A short-term increase might be an easier sell for Boehner as he tries to bring the most conservative faction of House members to vote in favor a debt limit increase.
Boehner said he wants to attempt to extract budget concessions in return for the increase. “I’m not going to raise the debt limit without a serious conversation about dealing with problems that are driving the debt up. It would be irresponsible of me to do this,” he told ABC News “This Week” on Sunday.
On Monday, Obama said he would not “negotiate under the threat of economic catastrophe.”
Speaking from a conference room at FEMA, Obama said 86 percent of the agency’s staff had been furloughed and others are on the job without pay for the time being. Obama said the U.S. “dodged a bullet” so far this hurricane season, but pointed to a tornado warning in the mid-Atlantic region as evidence of the dangers of hobbling FEMA.
As Obama spoke, House Republicans noted that the president has threatened to veto legislation that would fully reopen FEMA. The legislation passed the GOP-led House last week, as part of Republicans’ push to reopen pieces of the government. Senate Democrats and the White House have blocked what they dubbed a “piecemeal” approach to funding the government, saying the bills the House passed are only meant to provide political cover.
“All of this piecemeal stuff begs the question: Why not just open the government?” Carney said.