White House Meeting Ends Without Progress on Ending Shutdown

Debt ceiling begins to take center stage

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

House Speaker John Boehner speaks to members of the media after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on Oct. 2, 2013

Congressional leaders emerged from a meeting with President Barack Obama on Wednesday evening admitting they had made no progress on ending the two-day-long government shutdown, and pointing fingers as to which party is to blame for the political stalemate on Capitol Hill.

“The meeting was cordial but unproductive,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said in a written statement after the meeting.

Speaker of the House John Boehner told reporters outside the West Wing that the President reiterated to him and McConnell that he would not negotiate over delaying or defunding Obamacare as part of a deal to reopen the government. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said the GOP keeps “moving the goalposts” on a budget deal, warning of a “beyond cataclysmic” threat if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling in two weeks.

Democrats’ focus on the debt limit is the latest indication that the two fiscal crises are quickly blending together, and that the shutdown will only end when Congress and the White House reach agreement on both funding the government and raising the borrowing cap.

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Boehner criticized Senate majority leader Harry Reid for failing to appoint negotiators on a short-term government-funding measure to work out differences between the House and Senate budget bills. “I would hope that the President and my Democratic colleagues in the Senate would listen to the American people and sit down and have a serious discussion about resolving these differences,” he said after the meeting. The House funding measure would delay the individual mandate in Obamacare for a year, while the Senate has passed a “clean” bill that would fund the government with no strings attached.

Pelosi and Reid returned fire, saying Boehner is rejecting efforts to engage in negotiations on a long-term budget. The debt ceiling is “staring us in the face, and all he wants to do is talk about a short-term continuing resolution,” said Reid. “We are through playing these little games that are all focused on Obamacare.”

In a written statement issued after the meeting, the White House said, “The President reinforced his view that the House should put the clean government-funding bill that has been passed by the Senate up for a vote — a bill that would pass a majority of the House with bipartisan support. The House could act today to reopen the government, and stop the harm this shutdown is causing to the economy and families across the country.”

The White House then turned to a looming fight over the debt ceiling. “The President remains hopeful that common sense will prevail, and that Congress will not only do its job to reopen the government, but also act to pay the bills it has racked up and spare the nation from a devastating default,” reads the statement. “The President is glad that the leaders were able to engage in this useful discussion this evening.”

Also presaging the coming battle over the debt limit, in an interview with CNBC after the meeting, McConnell said raising the debt limit without concessions from Democrats is “unacceptable.”

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“While I appreciated the opportunity to speak directly with the President about this pressing issue, I was disappointed that he had little interest in negotiating a solution or in encouraging Senate Democrats to agree to the House request for a conference,” McConnell added in his statement.

Boehner described the roughly 80-minute meeting as “a nice conversation, a polite conversation,” while Pelosi called their discussions “candid,” adding that it was “worthwhile” for Obama to summon them all to the White House.

In a statement after the White House meeting, Boehner criticized the White House’s veto threat on narrow funding measures to reopen popular government functions. “There’s nothing ‘piecemeal’ about making sure Americans have access to all of their national parks, or continuing life-saving cancer research,” he said. “Instead of threatening to veto these bills as part of a scorched-earth strategy, the President should back them just as he did our military-pay bill. We will pass additional emergency measures in the coming days as we wait for President Obama and Senate Democrats to drop their refusal to negotiate.”