The government shutdown entered its second week Tuesday, and all sides said the pain is deepening — but that fight is being overshadowed quickly by the looming debt battle, which Democrats see as a last chance to try to break the tea party’s influence on the GOP.
Senate Democrats said they will try to pass a 15-month debt-limit holiday, which would let the government borrow without consequence until after the 2014 elections, but House Republicans countered with a call for a supercommittee to work out a solution.
Meanwhile, President Obama stuck by his line in the sand, saying in a news conference at the White House that he won’t talk until congressional Republicans concede.
“If reasonable Republicans want to talk about these things again, I’m ready to head up to the Hill and try,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ll even spring for dinner again, but I’m not going to do it until the more extreme parts of the Republican Party stop forcing John Boehner to issue threats about our economy. We can’t make extortion routine as a part of our democracy.”
Mr. Boehner, the House speaker, said Mr. Obama was in effect demanding an “unconditional surrender” from Republicans before entering into negotiations — a stance the Ohio Republican said was unacceptable.
“The long and short of it is there’s going to be a negotiation here. We can’t raise the debt ceiling without doing something about what’s driving us to borrow more money and to live beyond our means,” he told reporters. “This isn’t about me and, frankly, it’s not about Republicans. This is about saving the future for our kids and our grandkids, and the only way this is going to happen is to in fact have a conversation.”
Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner did speak on the phone early Tuesday. The House speaker called the conversation “pleasant,” but they found no middle ground. By the afternoon the two sides were staging news conferences to declare they hadn’t budged.
The showmanship extended to the chamber floors, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, used a parliamentary maneuver to force all senators to come, then proceeded to deliver a defiant speech saying Republicans would need to give in to demands if there is to be a resolution.
Hours later, Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, took to the chamber floor with a giant credit card printed with the government’s $16.7 trillion debt, and proceeded to use a pair of shears to cut it up.
He said regular Americans can’t just demand a credit limit increase without proving to banks that they are getting their finances in order, and he said the federal government shouldn’t be allowed a strings-free debt increase either. “We are the adolescents and the people in the states are the grown-ups,” he said.
With the Oct. 1 deadline for a government shutdown having come and gone without producing an agreement, both sides are now eyeing the Oct. 17 date when the Treasury Department says it will run out of room to maneuver on the debt.
Democrats said that could mean a government default and could prevent Social Security or Medicare from sending checks. Republicans countered that those warnings were overblown and would come to pass only if Mr. Obama prioritizes wasteful spending over paying the government’s important bills.
House Republican leaders proposed a way out of the shutdown fight and the debt limit battle by calling for a supercommittee to recommend big solutions for spending, taxes and the annual deficit.
But Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats rejected that idea outright, holding fast to their demand that the government be opened and the debt be raised before any official talks begin.
Mr. Reid introduced legislation to remove the debt limit until Dec. 31, 2014, granting a 15-month holiday for the government to borrow without conditions. His bill contains no spending controls or tax increases to address the issues Republicans have raised.