Obama Says Boehner Is Bluffing: ‘Hold a Vote’

Pushes back on Speaker's claim that there aren't enough votes in the House to reopen government

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US Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, center, walks to a meeting of House Republicans

President Barack Obama said Monday that House Speaker John Boehner is bluffing when he claims there aren’t enough votes in Congress to reopen the government without major concessions to Republicans.

“If Boehner says there are not enough votes, then they should prove it,” Obama said during a news conference at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where he thanked employees for working in “less than optimal circumstances” during the partial government shutdown, now entering its second week.

“Hold a vote,” Obama challenged Boehner. “Call a vote right now and let’s see what happens.”

Boehner said Sunday that there aren’t enough votes to end the shutdown without Obama negotiating to delay or otherwise make changes to the new health care reform law, a statement that cut sharply against vote counts done by news organizations and the statements of numerous moderate Republicans who have publicly said they would join with Democrats to reopen the government at current spending levels if Boehner allows a bill to come to the floor.

“There are not the votes in the House to pass [a clean spending bill],” Boehner said.

One of the moderate Republicans who favors passing clean funding bill — a so-called continuing resolution funding the government without changes to the health care law — said moments after Obama’s remarks that he agrees there are enough votes.

“I believe there are the votes to pass a clean [continuing resolution],” Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Charlie Dent said on CNN. “I’m going to insist the Speaker try to bring out a clean, continuing resolution.”

Speaking on the House floor later, Boehner said it’s Obama who is making the shutdown drag on. With a need to increase the debt ceiling or face major economic consequences looming just days away, Boehner said a senior White House official told him Monday that Obama would rather risk a sovereign debt default than negotiate over raising the borrowing limit.

“The president’s refusal to negotiate is hurting our economy and putting our country at risk,” Boehner said. “It’s time to have that conversation.”

Obama said Boehner’s refusal thus far to allow a vote indicates he doesn’t want the shutdown to end yet.

“The reason that Speaker Boehner hasn’t called a vote on it is that he doesn’t apparently want to see the government shutdown end at the moment unless he’s able to extract concessions,” Obama said.