Save Money in this Sunday's paper

comments

President Obama opens door to short-term deal on debt ceiling

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Washington Post

The White House and Senate Democrats on Monday sought to increase pressure on House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to raise the federal debt ceiling — if only for several weeks — with just 10 days until the government is at risk of being unable to pay all its bills.

For the first time, the White House said it was open to a short-term increase in the federal borrowing limit, which will be fully exhausted Oct. 17. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, say they will advance a bill this week raising the debt ceiling, perhaps through the 2014 midterm elections.

Together, the actions represent an effort to shine attention on the imminent need to raise the debt ceiling. That issue is quickly becoming the central focus in Washington, both because the government shutdown has been partially ameliorated by the recall of nearly 350,000 Pentagon workers and a potential default on the debt is far more of a threat to the economy than the shutdown.

The Treasury Department says it cannot guarantee payments after Oct. 17, and independent analysts say a default would be likely at some point in the two weeks after that.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is scheduled to testify Thursday about the debt limit before the Senate Finance Committee.

Boehner stuck to his position Monday that any increase in the debt limit would have to be paired with policy concessions, such as cuts to entitlements.

“Any debt-limit increase is going to require cuts and reforms to address America’s enormous budget deficit,” said Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesman.

Boehner has the same stand on reopening the government, arguing that the shutdown will not end unless President Obama makes policy concessions.

In a previously unscheduled midday appearance Monday at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Washington headquarters — a short trip from the White House, due to the president’s limited ability to travel during a shutdown — Obama challenged Boehner to hold a vote on a “clean” short-term spending bill that does not include riders to curtail or delay Affordable Care Act.

Disputing Boehner’s claim that there are not enough votes in the House to pass the bill, Obama dared him, “Call a vote right now, and let’s see what happens.”

Republicans, meanwhile, continued to focus on Obama’s refusal to negotiate over ending the government shutdown, a point they have used as a political hammer since the shutdown began early last week.

“Now, the American people expect when their leaders have differences, and we’re in a time of crisis, we’ll sit down and at least have a conversation,” Boehner said on the House floor Monday. “Really, Mr. President, it’s time to have that conversation before our economy is put further at risk.”

But in his remarks Monday, Obama said he is “happy to talk to Republicans about anything related to the budget,” but he will not do so under the threat of a government shutdown or a default on the federal debt.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) similarly challenged Boehner to put a bill funding the government on the floor.

“I ask the speaker, why are you afraid?” Reid said. “Are you afraid the bill will pass, the government will reopen and Americans will realize you took the country hostage for no apparent reason?”

Democrats have compromised by agreeing to the House Republicans’ budget bottom line, Reid said, “but once again, Lucy moved the football.”

“We are willing to negotiate,” he said. “But we won’t negotiate with a gun to our heads. We say to our Republican colleagues: End this irresponsible government shutdown. Stop your reckless threats of a default on the nation’s obligations. Then Democrats will negotiate over anything our Republican colleagues want.”

In the morning, Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, said members of Congress ultimately have the responsibility to decide how often they want to raise the debt ceiling, although he argued that an extended hike is preferable.

“I think longer is better for economic certainty and jobs, but it is ultimately up to them,” Sperling said in a morning discussion hosted by Politico.

The Treasury says it will run low on cash in as little as 10 days, placing the nation at risk of a historic default. Some Republicans have suggested that if Congress can’t reach an agreement by Oct. 17, they might try to forge a coalition to support an interim measure to increase the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling for as little as six weeks.

Sperling’s comments Monday suggested that the White House would accept such a measure. The statement was notable because administration officials had rejected a short-term debt ceiling increase during a similar impasse in the summer of 2011, when the White House insisted that the debt limit be increased to cover borrowing through 2012.

Now, with no election hanging over him, Obama has more flexibility. But it is not even clear whether Republicans would be able to pass a short-term bill.

On Monday, Sperling and Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said they were disappointed by Boehner’s comments. Boehner, they said, was welcome to pass the debt ceiling increase in a way that gives him a “talking point.” But they reiterated that Obama would not be negotiating policy changes as part of deciding how the nation should pay for spending that Congress has already committed to and approved.

“He’s not going to sanction negotiations with any faction that are using the threat of default as a way of enacting policy in our democracy,” Sperling said. “The era of threatening default has to be over.”

“The president strongly believes that if he were to sanction negotiating with those threatening to default,” Sperling added, “that would increase, not decrease, the chances that we as a country would undermine” the nation’s creditworthiness.

Furman said that a default would be “terrible” for the country. He noted that early this year, Boehner supported suspending the debt ceiling for several months and said he hoped that the speaker would take a similar step this time.

“He defused that brinksmanship,” Furman said. “He has it within his power to do that” again.

--

William Branigin, Philip Rucker and Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more



Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more


Quick Job Search
Salary Databases
CharlotteObserver.com