Obama, Boehner trade barbs, hints of compromise
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks about the ongoing budget battle, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. President Barack Obama stepped up pressure Tuesday on Borehner to hold votes to reopen the federal government and prevent a potentially disastrous U.S. government default. Obama spoke to reporters at the White House a few hours after calling Boehner and urging him to drop demands that the votes be tied to Republican demands for dismantling Obama's health care law and cutting federal spending. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama speaks about the government shutdown and debt limit, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. The president called House Speaker John Boehner saying he won't negotiate over reopening the government or must-pass legislation to prevent a US default on its obligations. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Rick Hohensee of Washington holds a "Fire Congress" sign near the House steps on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, in the second week of the partial government shutdown. President Barack Obama called House Speaker John Boehner saying that he won't negotiate over reopening the government or must-pass legislation to prevent a U.S. default on its obligations. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about the the budget and the partial government shutdown, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, in the Brady Press Room of the White House in Washington. The president said he told House Speaker John Boehner he's willing to negotiate with Republicans on their priorities, but not under the threat of "economic chaos." (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, escorts a group of constituents through the Capitol Rotunda during a lull in activity in the House of Representatives, Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, in Washington. The government partially shut down last week amid Washington gridlock and faces a make-or-break deadline later this month about the nation's borrowing power. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, followed by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., leaves a House Republican conference meeting, for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. Democrats controlling the Senate plan to move quickly toward a vote to allow the government to borrow more money, challenging Republicans to a filibuster showdown as the time remaining to stop a first-ever default on U.S. obligations ticks by. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, makes a statement outside his office to respond to President Barack Obama, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, at the Capitol in Washington. President Barack Obama says he told Boehner hes willing to negotiate with Republicans on their priorities, but not under the threat of economic chaos. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner offered hints of possible compromise but also traded heated rhetoric yesterday, a frustratingly inconclusive combination that left the eight-day partial government shutdown firmly in place and the threat of an unprecedented national default drawing closer.
“There’s a crack there,” Republican Boehner said of the impasse in a brief interview near the end of a day of maneuvering at the White House and the Capitol. But he added that it was not enough to warrant optimism.
Stocks fell significantly – the Dow Jones average by 159 points – as political gridlock endured. And, in the latest in a string of dire warnings, the International Monetary Fund said failure to raise America’s debt limit could lead to default and disrupt worldwide financial markets, raise interest rates and push the U.S. economy back into recession.
Republicans “don’t get to demand ransom in exchange for doing their jobs,” Obama said at the White House. “They don’t also get to say, you know, unless you give me what the voters rejected in the last election, I’m going to cause a recession.”
Even the deaths of U.S. servicemen over the weekend in Afghanistan were grist for the politicians. The Pentagon said that because of the partial shutdown it was unable to pay the customary death benefits to the survivors.
Boehner said Congress had passed and Obama signed legislation last week permitting the payments, adding it was “disgraceful” for the administration to interpret the measure otherwise. He said the House would clarify the issue with a new bill today.
In Congress, a plan by Senate Democrats to raise the debt limit by $1 trillion to stave off a possible default drew little evidence of support from Republicans. And a proposal by the House Republicans to create a working group of 20 lawmakers to tackle deficit issues drew a veto threat from the White House, the latest in a string of them as the administration insists the GOP reopen the government and avert default before any negotiations on deficit reduction or the three-year-old health care law can take place.
At midmorning, Boehner and other Republicans seemed to soften their demands.
“I suspect we can work out a mechanism to raise the debt ceiling while a negotiation is under way,” said Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican.
The speaker, who had previously insisted on specific changes in the health care law as the price for preventing the shutdown, told reporters, “I want to have a conversation (with Obama and Democrats). I’m not drawing any lines in the sand. It’s time for us to just sit down and resolve our differences.”
Asked whether he was willing to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government for a short period, the Ohio Republican sidestepped. “I’m not going to get into a whole lot of speculation,” he said.
A few hours later, Obama told a news conference he was willing to negotiate with Republicans on budget and other issues if Congress passed even short-term legislation to end the crisis.
“I’ll even spring for dinner again,” he said, referring to his courtship of Republican senators last winter, and attempting to inject humor into a political impasse where invective has been the norm.
Ninety minutes later, Boehner was unsmiling.
“What the president said today was if there’s unconditional surrender by Republicans, he’ll sit down and talk,” he said. Renewing his call for “a conversation” about key issues facing the country, the Ohio Republican said, “Not next week. Not next month. The conversation ought to start today.”