Obama shops around as GOP offers multiple debt-hike plans
By Alexander Bolton and Peter Schroeder - 10/11/13 02:56 PM ET
President Obama seemed to go comparison-shopping on Friday as he met with Senate Republicans to discuss their proposals for ending the government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling.
Obama did most of the talking but also took questions from GOP senators who rode buses down Pennsylvania Ave. to meet on the president’s turf.
The Republican senators used their time to try to eke out details of the bargaining that had happened the previous evening between Obama and House negotiators. GOP senators are pushing their own plans to open the government and raise the debt ceiling.
“We tried to find out what was said at the meeting with the House,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who said he would not characterize the meeting as a negotiation.
“There were a lot of questions and comments, and it seems to me there is significant conversations about the framework of a deal, but I didn’t see anything that suggested a deal was imminent,” he added.
"He was clear that he was having discussions with the House. He wasn't trying to say that he was going to reach some agreement independent of them," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).
House Republicans have sent the White House the framework of a deal that would raise the debt ceiling for six weeks and set up immediate negotiations to end the government shutdown.
House GOP leaders say they have yet to receive a response to the offer, and details of the plan are being kept under wraps.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the House plan did not come up at the meeting with Obama, adding, "I don't quite understand it.”
"The president is very reluctant to commit to anything because he has to deal with the House of Representatives," he added.
Senate Republicans are eager for the government shutdown to end, fearing it could squander their chance at a majority in 2014. The GOP has seen its approval ratings fall to record lows in two major polls.
“There are two active negotiations going on,” said a source with knowledge of the meeting. “One is between House Republicans and the White House and the other is between Susan Collins and some Senate Democrats.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said the president seemed receptive to her proposal to reopen the government, repeal the medical device tax and give federal agencies more flexibility to manage the automatic cuts known as sequestration. Her plan would lock in the $967 billion funding level set by the Budget Control Act.
Collins said Obama discussed her proposal at length during the meeting.
“He said it was constructive but I don’t want to give the impression that he endorsed it. He said there were elements of it that he liked,” she said.
She noted that interest among Senate Democrats in her idea is growing.
The president played the role of an aloof buyer, showing up 20 minutes late, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has pushed including in any deal an income-verification requirement for people who apply for federal subsidies through the healthcare exchanges set up by ObamaCare.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has advocated for a plan to attach mandatory spending reforms to any deal to open the government and raise the debt limit.
Freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has spearheaded the push to tie government funding to the defunding of ObamaCare, called on the president to agree to GOP demands to curtail the landmark law.
Colleagues characterized the exchange as cordial.
“There was an awful lot of talking and the president still says he won’t negotiate,” Cruz said. “I hope they will see reason, I hope they will come together, fund the government and provide real relief to the millions of Americans who are hurting from ObamaCare.”
“I urged him to do exactly that,” he added.
The most heated exchange came between Obama and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who assailed the president’s signature healthcare initiative.
“Barrasso stood up and really brought the heat on ObamaCare and the horrible rollout and really challenge the president on the individual mandate,” said a source familiar with the meeting.
One Senate Republican characterized the meeting as a waste of time.
“What could have been a productive conversation was instead another predictable lecture from the president that did not lay out a new path forward," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said in a statement.