WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans rushed late Friday to develop a new plan to reopen the government and avoid a first-ever default, hoping to craft a strategy that can win the support of the White House before financial markets open next week.
Talks on Capitol Hill advanced with fresh urgency after President Barack Obama rejected House Speaker John Boehners offer to raise the debt limit through late November to give the parties time to negotiate a broader budget deal.
Briefing reporters after markets closed for the week, White House press secretary Jay Carney praised a new willingness among Republicans to end the government shutdown – now in its 12th day – and to acknowledge that default on the national debt would be catastrophically damaging.
But with the Treasury Department due to exhaust its borrowing authority in just six days, Carney said the president would not agree to go through another round of economy-rattling talks in six weeks, just before the Christmas shopping season.
It at least looks like theres the possibility of making some progress here, Carney said. But the presidents view is that we have to remove these sort of demands for leverage, using essentially the American people and the economy.
Obama had telephoned Boehner, R-Ohio, and the two men agreed to keep talking, aides said. Afterward, GOP senators marched into Boehners office and counseled him to adopt an approach they had presented to Obama during their own meeting with him Friday.
With Republicans getting battered in public opinion polls over the shutdown, Senate GOP leaders urged Boehner to join them in supporting a single, big-bang measure that would open the government and raise the debt limit in one fell swoop.
I laid out some of those ideas, and the question is, can the House find a center of gravity to open the government up around those ideas, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said after exiting the speakers office with Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga..
The latest 23-page draft of the emerging measure would immediately end the shutdown and fund federal agencies for six months at current spending levels. It would maintain the deep automatic cuts known as the sequester but would give agency officials flexibility to decide where the cuts should fall.
In addition, the proposal would raise the debt limit through Jan. 31.
Lawmakers were considering whether to include a provision that would direct the House and Senate budget committees to immediately enter negotiations over broader budget issues and to issue a report by Jan. 15.
If an agreement could be reached, it would clear a path for another increase in the debt limit later that month, without additional drama.
In exchange, Republicans were seeking what they called a few fig leaves – minor adjustments to Obamas new health care initiative. The first would delay for two years a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices that is unpopular in both parties. The second would require internal auditors to ensure that people who get tax subsidies to buy health insurance are in fact eligible.
The Senate proposal differs in critical ways from the approach Boehner sold earlier this week to his rank and file, who had insisted on using the threat of the shutdown to try to undermine the Affordable Care Act.
Given those demands, Boehner had offered to lift the debt limit for six weeks to clear space for negotiations over overhauling the tax code, trimming federal entitlement spending and reforming the health care law. The government would remain shuttered unless Obama agreed to those talks.
House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., quickly blasted the Senate plan to extend temporary funding for six months, calling it disastrous.
It is a punt to the executive branch for the Congress not to exercise judgment about where money is spent, Rogers said in a statement.
Boehner scheduled a meeting of the entire GOP conference for this morning.
GOP senators and aides said Boehner has been told that Senate Republicans will negotiate their own pact with Senate Democrats if he fails to act.
From my point of view, itd be better for the country if the House led, Graham said.