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Obama Open to Talks, Short-Term Debt Deal

U.S. President Barack Obama says he is open to broad budget talks and a potential short term debt limit deal. But he says he will not sit down with Republicans while a government shutdown continues and Americans are subject to what he calls "extortion" by extreme elements in the Republican Party.

Obama spoke Tuesday after telephoning Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to reiterate an offer to negotiate, but not while the partial government shutdown continues, or under the threat of a potential default.

The US debt limit:

  • Is the total amount of money the US government can borrow to meet existing legal obligations
  • Obligations include Social Security, Medicare, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds
  • Raising the debt limit does not authorize new spending commitments
  • Failing to increase the debt limit would cause the government to default on its legal obligations
  • Since 1960, Congress has acted to raise the debt limit 78 times

Source: US Department of Treasury
He said he recognizes the difficulties of working together in a divided government and remains willing to work through a range of issues and negotiate on any topic.

But he said he will not continue a pattern in which lawmakers hold Americans and the economy "hostage" to specific demands.

"We're not going to pay a ransom for America paying its bills. That is something that should be non-negotiable, and everybody should agree on that. Everybody should say one of the most valuable things that we have is America's creditworthiness. This is not something we should even come close to fooling around with," said President Obama.

Speaker Boehner on Tuesday renewed his appeal for negotiations over Republican demands that have included dismantling or delaying key parts of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which took effect October 1.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the press following a House Republican party meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 8, 2013.

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the press following a House Republican party meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 8, 2013.

Boehner said nothing would be off the table in any negotiations. But reacting to Obama's remarks, the Republican lawmaker suggested that the president is not providing room for compromise.

"What the president said today is, if there is unconditional surrender by Republicans, he will sit down and talk to us," said Boehner.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra accused Republicans of ignoring poll numbers showing Americans are impatient with Republican tactics.

"We should be talking about strengthening the economy and building a stronger middle class. Instead, we are trying to figure out why Republicans won't let us have a vote on reopening our government," said Becerra.

As the October 17 deadline approaches for Congress to increase the government borrowing limit, the stalemate is fueling speculation that new so-called "grand bargain" deficit talks may be required.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell:

"This is not 2009 and 2010 when our friends on the other side had a total hammer lock on all the government. We now have divided government. It means we have to talk to each other and get to an outcome," said McConnell.

Obama reacted skeptically to a House Republican proposal to establish a House-Senate "working group" to seek further deficit reduction, modeled on a so-called "super committee" in 2011.

"What is not fair and will not result in an actual deal is ransom-taking, or hostage-taking, and the expectation that Democrats are providing ransom or providing concessions for the mere act of reopening the government, or paying our bills," said Obama.

The president also spoke about global implications for U.S. credibility of the political stalemate, and the potential of default.

He noted that the U.S. government shutdown forced him to miss attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Indonesia.

"I had to miss critical meetings in Asia to promote American jobs and businesses. And although as long as we get this fixed, that is not long-term damage, whenever we do these things it hurts our credibility around the world, it makes it look like we don't have our act together," he said.

Obama said there were "lost opportunities" in the short term with countries that welcome the U.S. economic and strategic pivot to Asia, but he believes leaders understand that resolving the U.S. budget dispute is important for them.

President Obama also was asked about the recent U.S. special forces operations in Libya, to apprehend a wanted terrorist, and in Somalia.

Asked if the capture of al-Qaida operative Abu Anas al-Libi complied with international law, he said the U.S. has "strong evidence" that al-Libi "planned and helped execute plots that killed hundreds of people."

Obama said Africa is one place where regional groups, some tied to al-Qaida, have developed that require U.S. action, but he added there is a difference between going after terrorists plotting directly against the U.S. and America being involved in wars.

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