GOP will have wiggle room on spending, but not on debt, in budget fight

Obama willing to talk with Boehner on funding ideas

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House Republicans girding for a pair of fiscal fights this month will have some wiggle room when it comes to their spending priorities, but the debt limit is off the negotiating table — especially if they intend to use the new health care law as a bargaining chip, President Obama said Sunday.

Mr. Obama, whose shifting approach to the Syrian conflict has overshadowed domestic issues in recent weeks, said he would be happy to speak with House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, about how to fund the government past Sept. 30 while dealing with across-the-board cuts known as the sequester.

“There are ways of doing this. It’s just that they haven’t been willing to negotiate in a serious way on that,” Mr. Obama said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Mr. Obama repeatedly has said he will not play around with restrictions on how much debt the Treasury can issue to pay existing bills and risk a replay of the 2011 standoff that downgraded the nation’s credit rating, saying it would lead to unprecedented — and self-inflicted — damage to the nation’s lagging economy.

“What has never happened in the past was the notion that in exchange for fulfilling the full faith and credit of the United States, that we are wiping away, let’s say, major legislation like the health care bill,” he said.

But Mr. Obama’s signature health overhaul, the Affordable Care Act, is proving to be the key fulcrum in this month’s spending talks, with hard-line conservatives vowing not to support any continuing resolution that funds one penny of Obamacare.

House Republican leadership has not decided how it will proceed, raising the specter of a government shutdown if their differences are not resolved in the next two weeks.

Members of Congress sparred Sunday over who would be responsible for a potential shutdown if Capitol Hill cannot strike a deal on the new health care law while funding the rest of the government. Key pillars of the health care law, namely state-based insurance exchanges and the expansion of Medicaid enrollment in select states, are set to take root over the next several months.

Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican, said the Obama administration has modified or delayed provisions of the law, so a one-year delay as part of any spending deal should not be a heavy lift.

Notably, the White House put off for one year, to 2015, the employer mandate that requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to provide health care coverage or pay fines.

“We believe it’s only fair for the American people now to have that same delay,” Mr. Price said on “Fox News Sunday,” referring to the individual mandate requiring most Americans to hold some form of health insurance starting in 2014.

But the White House and congressional Democrats have said defunding or delaying Mr. Obama’s signature law is a “nonstarter.” They said Republicans’ obsession with Obamacare is leading them to self-destruct and risk blame for a potential shutdown.

Mr. Price turned that argument on its head when he said Mr. Obama and Democrats are the ones who want to shut down the government by digging in their heels on a health care law that, according to polls, remains unpopular.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, said on “Fox News Sunday” that critics of the law are inflating its problems. For instance, the employer mandate affects only 5 percent of businesses and is “not central to the overall idea behind Obamacare.”

He said Mr. Price “is prepared to shut down the government if we don’t shut down Obamacare for a year.”

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