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October 11, 2013

Debt, Shutdown Deal Discussed in White House Talks With Republicans

by Cindy Saine

Senate Republicans met with President Barack Obama at the White House as talks continued in the House of Representatives to hammer out a deal to re-open the federal government and avert a potential default on the nation's debts. The tone has changed on Capitol Hill as real efforts are under way to find agreement.

House Republican leaders are working on a proposal to raise the debt ceiling so the government will have enough money to pay its bills for about six weeks. There are reports now that it may also include a provision to end the government shutdown in exchange for spending cuts by the president.

Democrats were initially disappointed by details of the Republican plan because it appeared that the funding dispute that has shut down most government services this month would continue. Analyst Norm Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute said Republicans were using the threat of default to press their demands for spending cuts.

“If you just extend the debt ceiling for six weeks, and put in as a condition that there is no flexibility in the Treasury [for arrangements beyond November 22], the signal you are sending is, ‘I am going to use this once again as a method of extortion',” he complained.

Republican senators met with President Obama for about 90 minutes on Friday about the looming deadline to raise the debt ceiling and the ongoing government shutdown, now in its 11th day.

As they boarded buses to return to Capitol Hill, senators did not respond to shouted questions from journalists standing outside the White House.

The government shutdown began on October 1 when House Republicans tried to add a provision derailing Obama’s new health care law - to what would normally be a routine bill extending government services until a budget for the new fiscal year is agreed.

Some Republicans still want to block the Affordable Care Act - the new law on health care reforms known widely as "Obamacare."

“This is our goal right now, to continue the fight on Obamacare," admitted Congressman Raul Labrador who is among those who want to defund Obamacare. "And the best way for us to do that is to separate the two issues [government operations and the nation's debt ceiling] at this time.  Because if not, when they get conflated, then I think people are going to start caving on both issues.”

House Democrats have been frustrated with internal divisions among House Republicans, some of whom want to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government right away. 

“It is really hard to negotiate with people who are still negotiating among themselves,” said a frustrated Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi.

Despite opposition by some House Republicans, there are signs of progress and a more conciliatory tone among both parties in reaching a deal.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters