WASHINGTON: House talks with President Barack Obama over ending the partial government shutdown and preventing a federal default have stalled, Speaker John Boehner told fellow Republicans on Saturday, shifting the focus to Senate efforts to end the twin stalemates.
The closed-door Republican session came as the shutdown began its 12th day. Saturday also marked just five days from when administration officials have warned the government will deplete its ability to borrow money and risk a first-time federal default that could jolt the world economy.
There are two issues at play: the U.S. government has been partially shut since Oct. 1, idling about 350,000 federal workers, because of Congress' failure to pass a normally routine temporary spending bill. Separately, Obama wants Congress to extend the government's borrowing authority _ another matter that usually had been routine _ warning that if it fails to do so by Oct. 17, the United States will not be able to pay its bills.
Across the Capitol, senators planned to vote Saturday on a Democratic measure to lift the government's borrowing cap through the end of next year. Republicans were poised to reject it.
But more importantly, a bipartisan group of senators, closely watched by Senate leaders, is polishing a plan aimed at reaching a compromise with Obama.
Boehner, the top House Republican, met with his caucus Saturday morning in a Capitol basement meeting room to update them on negotiations with the administration.
“The Senate needs to hold tough,” Republican Rep. Greg Walden said Boehner told House Republicans at the meeting. “The president now isn't negotiating with us.”
Conservatives said Obama was to blame for the standoff.
“Perhaps he sees this as the best opportunity for him to win the House in 2014,” said Republican Rep. John Fleming. “It's very clear to us he does not now, and never had, any intentions of negotiating.”
Obama has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he is willing to negotiate with Republicans on budget, health care or other issues, but only after the government is reopened and, separately, the $16.7 trillion debt limit is raised.
He has insisted that he will not make concessions to Republicans who are trying to use the government shutdown and debt ceiling as leverage.
“It doesn't have to be this way. It's not supposed to be this way,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday. “Manufacturing crises to extract massive concessions isn't how our democracy works, and we have to stop it. Politics is a battle of ideas, but you advance those ideas through elections and legislation _ not extortion.”
In the Senate, an emerging proposal by moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins and others would pair a six-month plan to keep the government open with an increase in the government's borrowing limit through January.
Obama has turned away a House plan to link the reopening of the government _ and a companion measure to temporarily increase the government's borrowing cap _ to concessions on the budget.
In the face of disastrous opinion polls, Republican leaders have signaled they will make sure the debt limit is increased with minimal damage to the financial markets. But they're still seeking concessions as a condition for reopening the government.
Obama met Senate Republicans on Friday and heard a pitch from Collins on raising the debt limit until the end of January, reopening the government and cutting his signature health care law at its periphery.
The Collins proposal would delay for two years a medical-device tax that helps finance the health care law, and it would subject millions of individuals eligible for subsidies to purchase health insurance under the program to stronger income verification. It would also set up a broader set of budget talks aimed at reducing the federal deficit.