WASHINGTON – With time running short, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner accelerated efforts Friday to prevent the U.S. Treasury from default and end a partial government shutdown that stretched into an 11th day. The latest impacts: New aircraft grounded, military chaplains silenced and a crab harvest jeopardized in the Bering Sea.
“Let’s put this hysterical talk of default behind us and instead start talking about finding solutions,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Republicans in the House and Senate separately made proposals to the White House for ending an impasse that polls say has inflicted damage on their party politically.
Each offered to reopen the government and raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit – but only as part of broader approaches that envision deficit savings; changes to the Affordbale Care Act, also known as Obamacare; and an easing of across-the-board spending cuts that the White House and Congress both dislike. The details and timing differed.
“We’re waiting to hear” from administration officials, said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
In meetings with lawmakers over two days, Obama left open the possibility he would sign legislation repealing a medical device tax enacted as part of the health care law. Yet there was no indication he was willing to do so with a default looming and the government partially closed.
Obama called Boehner at midafternoon, and Michael Steel, a spokesman for the leader of House Republicans, said, “They agreed that we should all keep talking.”
Jay Carney, the president’s press secretary, said Obama “appreciates the constructive nature of the conversation and the proposal that House Republicans put forward. However, the spokesman said, “He has some concerns with it.”
In Congress, the man certain to be involved in any final agreement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, gave no indication of his plans.
Obama met at the White House for more than an hour with Senate Republicans, the last in a series of four presidential sit-downs with the rank and file of each house and each party.
He has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he is willing to negotiate with Republicans on budget, health care or other issues, but only after the government is reopened and the threat of default eliminated.
The White House seemed to wobble on that point Thursday, until Reid emphatically reinforced that it was his view, too.
Republicans have just as insistently demanded that Obama negotiate with them in exchange for passage of legislation that both sides agree is essential.
That left the White House and congressional leaders looking for a way to negotiate their way out of an impasse without appearing to negotiate – with the health of the nation’s economy dependent on their political dexterity. The administration says the government will bump up against its borrowing limit next Thursday, raising the specter of an unprecedented default.
At Obama’s meeting with Senate Republicans, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a leader of the “defund Obamacare” movement, said he reiterated his view to the president that changes to his health care law should be part of any deal.
Though Republicans in both chambers have largely tabled the effort, Cruz isn’t backing down.
“The outcome needs to be we should fund the government, and we should provide real relief to the millions of people who are losing their job or forced into part-time work or losing their health insurance because of Obamacare,” Cruz said. “That should remain the focus, and I hope it does.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, laid out a proposal to raise the debt limit until the end of January, reopen the government and take a slice out of the health care law.
Under a proposal she and other GOP senators have been developing, a medical device tax that helps finance the health care law would be repealed, and millions of individuals eligible for subsidies to purchase health insurance under the program would be subject to stronger income verification.
At the same time, federal agencies that have been affected by across-the-board cuts would gain greater flexibility in the use of their remaining funds.
Any other items could be negotiated later.
Back at the Capitol, Collins said Obama said the proposal “was constructive, but I don’t want to give the impression that he endorsed it.”
For their part, House Republicans previewed a different approach in a late-night meeting Thursday with White House officials.
It, too, would raise the debt limit and avoid a default, as part of a framework that could include easing the across-the-board cuts in exchange for reductions that Obama has supported in the past in benefit programs. That plan, too, seeks changes in Obamacare.
White House officials declined to comment on that proposal, although administration aides were checking with key Democrats in Congress to gauge their reaction.
The New York Times contributed to this story.