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Obama stiff-arms GOP over shutdown, default talks

President plans afternoon press briefing on crisis

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2013

President Obama Tuesday again shot down the prospect of direct talks with congressional Republicans to end the standoff over the partial government shutdown and looming federal debt default, just minutes after GOP House Speaker John A. Boehner on Tuesday called on the president and Senate Democrats to sit down for negotiations as the only way the two sides can reach a deal.

Mr. Obama told Mr. Boehner over the telephone that he is still unwilling to negotiate until Congress acts to reopen the government and raise the federal debt ceiling.

The exchange signals that the two sides remain far apart as the federal government enters week two of the shutdown and creeps closer to the Oct. 17 deadline that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew set for Congress to raise the nation's borrowing limit - or risk default.

Speaking at a morning press conference, Mr. Boehner told reporters that Mr. Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are "putting our country on a pretty dangerous path" by refusing to negotiate with the House GOP over government funding and the debt-limit.

"There has never been a president in our history that did not negotiate over the debt limit - never, not once," the Ohio Republican said. "The way to resolve this is to sit down, have a conversation and resolve our differences."

Mr. Obama, though, apparently brushed away the olive branch.

The White House said in a statement that Mr. Obama again urged Mr. Boehner to hold a vote in the House on a Senate-passed measure that would re-open the federal government immediately.

"Citing the Senate's intention to pass a clean, yearlong extension of the debt limit this week, the president also pressed the speaker to allow a timely up-or-down vote in the House to raise the debt limit with no ideological strings attached," the White House said.

The White House also revealed that Mr. Obama will make a statement in the press briefing room at 2 p.m. and will take questions from reporters.

A spokesman for Mr. Boehner confirmed that the White House offered no ground in the brief telephone exchange.

"The president called the Speaker again today to reiterate that he won't negotiate on a government funding bill or debt limit increase," said Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesman.

Since the shutdown started Oct. 1, both sides have dug in on their positions, leaving them at odds over how best to reopen the government for business and over what it will take to increase the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling.

Lawmakers now appear poised to wrap the fights over the shutdown and the debt limit into one.

For their part, Mr. Reid and Senate Democrats say they are willing to sit down to negotiate spending with House Republicans, but they are demanding that before that happens the House GOP must act on a stopgap spending measure that passed the Senate and would fund all operations of government and Obamacare through mid-November.

Mr. Reid said Tuesday that "sensible Republicans" are getting fed up with the shutdown and once again challenged Mr. Boehner to let the House vote on the Senate measure.

"Speaker Boehner insists that the Senate-passed bill to end the shutdown can't pass the House," the Nevada Democrat said. "If he really believes that the bill won't pass, he shouldn't be worried about bringing it up then."

But Mr. Boehner says he first wants to negotiate with Democrats over a broader deal that limits spending.

The House, meanwhile, has passed a series of individual spending bills to reopen parts of the government, including national parks and the National Institutes of Health, and continue to demand that the individual mandate in Obamacare is postponed a year.

Over the weekend, Mr. Boehner said that he will not agree to a debt increase before Democrats agree to some spending reductions.

Asked Tuesday whether he would lift the debt ceiling and fund the government for a short amount of time in order to give lawmakers more time to work on a deal, Mr. Boehner said he was not going to get into that sort of "speculation."

An ABC-Washington Post poll released this week showed that 70 percent of voters disapprove of the way Republicans are handling the budget fight, while 61 percent disapprove of the approach taken by Democrats and 51 percent disapprove of the way Mr. Obama has handled the situation.

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