Published : 2013-10-10 19:43
Updated : 2013-10-10 19:43
WASHINGTON (AFP) ― President Barack Obama on Wednesday invited Republican and Democratic lawmakers to the White House to discuss the budget stand-off that shut the government and could plunge the United States into default.
Yet, in a sign of the distrust between Obama and his foes on Capitol Hill, Republican leaders decided to send only a delegation of top power players to the talks rather than a full party contingent.
The tit-for-tat battle over talks, and a row over the halting of death benefits for slain U.S. soldiers, grabbed the limelight in the absence of any serious efforts by either side to break the logjam.
Obama will meet lawmakers from the Democratic minority in the House of Representatives later on Wednesday, a White House official said.
Republicans in the House and both sides from the Senate will be invited in for talks “in the coming days,” the official said.
The meetings come as Washington lurches close to an Oct. 17 deadline to raise the U.S. government’s statutory borrowing limit.
Failure to do so could see the United States default on its obligations for the first time in its history and spark what the White House warns will be dire economic consequences which could spread around the globe.
The U.S. government, meanwhile, has been shut for eight days, after Congress failed to agree on a budget to finance operations by an Oct. 1 deadline.
Obama refuses to negotiate with Republicans on budget issues until the debt limit is lifted and the government is reopened.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner will not take either step until Obama offers concessions to his House Republican caucus.
A spokesman for Boehner said that the talks at the White House would only be worthwhile if a solution was on the agenda.
“That’s why the House Republican Conference will instead be represented by a smaller group of negotiators, including the elected leadership and certain committee chairmen,” said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck.
The talks with lawmakers are not meant as a sign Obama is climbing down on his refusal to enter serious negotiations before the immediate crisis has passed, aides said privately.
They may also be designed to defuse Republican charges that the president is obstinately opposed to dialogue with his foes, which have been adopted by Republicans in an attempt to spread the blame for the impact of the shutdown.
While both sides are locked into their positions, and no in-depth negotiations are taking place, there were some signs of political maneuvering Wednesday that could indicate key players are looking for an end game.
Republican Paul Ryan, seen as a philosophical touchstone for conservatism in the House, weighed in on the debate, after a period in which he stayed behind the scenes, with an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal.
Ryan rebuked Obama for not negotiating over the debt ceiling ― saying presidents had repeatedly done so in the past.
The Wisconsin congressman and former vice presidential nominee called for a wide discussion about budgetary policy, and offered Democrats a conversation about reining in some spending cuts in return for concessions on the funding of social programs.
“To break the deadlock, both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country’s entitlement programs and tax code.”
While the article broke little new ground, it did not mention defunding Obamacare, the president’s legacy-enhancing health law which Republicans have been trying to cripple in return for opening the government or raising the debt ceiling.
Lawmakers were also Wednesday chewing over Obama’s offer to accept a short-term extension to the debt ceiling and temporary government financing to forestall the immediate crisis, which has sparked alarm over possible economic impacts around the world.
Chris Van Hollen, a senior Democratic congressman, said there was a “little glimmer” of hope for a way out.
“It depends on whether Republicans on the Hill are willing to ... jump on it,” Van Hollen said on CNBC.
It is unclear, however, whether Boehner has the votes within his own party to push forward a short-term solution to the impasse.
The Republican speaker has been unwilling to rely on Democratic votes to build a majority in the House, apparently fearing a backlash from conservative Tea Party members could put him out of a job.
Obama meanwhile demanded action after learning that relatives of service members killed in Afghanistan since the shutdown began had not received $100,000 death benefits.
“The president expects this to be fixed today,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said, though refused to say when Obama found out about the issue.
Global stocks, meanwhile, slid again Wednesday on fears that the debt ceiling crisis was no nearer to resolution.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.12 percent to 14,758.91 points in midday trading.