GOP to send small group to Obama meeting
By: Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett
October 9, 2013 07:38 AM EDT
President Barack Obama is going all-out this week in his push to win over Congress as the government remains shuttered and a debt default looms.
Obama will meet with House Democrats at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. Senate Democrats will follow, likely on Thursday, according to Democratic sources.
Speaker John Boehner’s office said 18 of the 232 House Republicans would meet with Obama at a time that will be announced by the White House. The group, which includes Boehner, consists mostly of leadership and committee chairmen.
Sources said Senate Republicans will also get invites to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Sen. John McCain said he hasn’t received an invitation and wouldn’t attend. The Arizona Republican said he expected the meeting would likely be limited to leadership.
GOP skepticism remains high ahead of the huddles.
“A meeting is a good start, but only if it means [Obama has] decided to drop his refusal to negotiate on solutions – only if he’s ready to work with members of both parties to address the debt in a meaningful way,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
There’s been some bipartisan thaw in the House, whereBoehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor quietly met on Wednesday with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.
The meeting, held in Boehner’s suite of offices in the Capitol, comes a week into the government shutdown and eight days before the Treasury Department says the debt ceiling will be reached.
“Reps. Pelosi and Hoyer asked for the meeting, and as we’ve stated publicly, we’re willing to meet with any Democratic leader who is willing to talk,” said Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman.
In a statement, Pelosi said she and Hoyer “reiterated that there are 200 Democratic votes to accept the Republican budget number of $986 billion to re-open government and that we would agree to smooth the path to a budget conference.”
She added: “We were disappointed the Speaker did not take ‘yes’ for an answer.”
After the meeting ended, Boehner refused to comment on what was said, or on anything related to the shutdown or debt ceiling hike. He then went to the House floor and delivered a brief speech chastising the health care law as a “train wreck” and detailing the glitches that have plagued the rollout of the new Obamacare exchanges since Oct. 1.
“This is why we need to sit down and have a conversation about the big challenges that face our country,” Boehner said on the House floor.
There has been absolutely no movement toward finding a solution to reopen government and lift the debt ceiling.
But there has been an uptick in communication between Democrats and Republicans in the past few days. Boehner and Obama spoke twice yesterday. Steel said: “There has been some contact between our offices, but we won’t be providing a specific readout of each exchange.”
The White House meetings come in the midst of the biggest budget standoff of Obama’s presidency and Boehner’s control of the House. There’s no movement toward an agreement to end the government shutdown and lift the debt ceiling.
Senate Democrats will attempt this week to pass a so-called clean debt ceiling increase — one that lifts the nation’s borrowing limit through the 2014 elections without any extraneous policy add-ons. To help sell the increase, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) have distributed a memo to their Senate colleagues pushing back against Boehner and Senate Republicans’ insistence that most debt ceiling lifts are accompanied by fiscal policy changes.
“The responsible choice is to pass a clean debt ceiling bill, avoid a self-inflicted wound to the economy, and focus on our country’s real challenges,” the two influential Democrats wrote.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois wouldn’t say if he was confident that Democrats could attract six GOP votes to advance the debt ceiling measure. So far, only Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has come out in support of moving forward.
“I would just say, I hope that there will be at least six who don’t want to see this government default for the first time in history,” Durbin said.
House Republicans have absolutely no concrete plan to lift the debt ceiling at this point. On Tuesday, they passed legislation to create a commission — likened by many members to the failed supercommittee — that would study debt and deficit issues, and issue recommendations. Obama said he would veto that bill.
On Wednesday, the House will continue to try to pass bills to fund parts of government — bills that have largely been rejected by the White House and Senate Democrats. Republicans will have legislation on the floor to pay benefits to the families of fallen soldiers and another to fund the Federal Aviation Administration.
Other ideas are plentiful. In a meeting of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis) advocated for short-term debt ceiling increases that would ride alongside spending cuts until a larger agreement can be reached. Ryan, according to sources present, then wants four to six weeks to craft a deal on entitlement spending and tax reform.
There’s still much stagecraft going on in Washington. Senate Democratic leaders gathered on the Capitol steps to urge Republicans to open government, a bit of bad timing that provoked a clash with D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, who was leading a rally on D.C. spending autonomy just a few steps away.