WASHINGTON — President Obama and House speaker John A. Boehner amped up their rhetoric Tuesday as the standoff over the shutdown and a potential default on the nation’s debt reached a new level of discord and uncertainty.
Even a temporary route to break the logjam — the possibility of raising the nation’s borrowing authority for a few weeks to stave off economic calamity and allow time for substantial negotiations — did not win any agreement, despite offering an opportunity for both sides to save face.
Obama and Boehner had a brief phone conversation Tuesday morning, then followed that up with dueling press conferences that revealed how deeply the two sides remain divided.
“If reasonable Republicans want to talk about these things again, I’m ready to head up to the Hill and try,” Obama said during a press conference. “I’ll even spring for dinner again.”
But, he added, “I’m not going to do it until the more extreme parts of the Republican Party stop forcing John Boehner to issue threats about our economy. We can’t make extortion routine as part of our democracy.”
The economic warning came Tuesday as stocks fell sharply and consumer confidence, as measured by Gallup, has fallen by more than it has in any week since the Lehman Brothers collapse of 2008, the beginning of the global economic crisis.
The Obama administration has warned that the nation faces default on its credit beginning Oct. 17. Republicans have pounded Obama for days for refusing to negotiate terms for an end to the dispute. Obama, in a press conference lasting more than hour, went to extraordinary lengths to explain to ordinary Americans why he believes “paying ransom’’ in exchange for raising the debt ceiling is “nonnegotiable.’’
He compared the need to pay the government’s debts to consumers’ need to pay the mortgage, and said Republican demands for changes in the health law, in order to “do their job,” would be like workers insisting they will burn down the factory if they don’t get a raise. He said negotiating before the government is open and the debt ceiling raised would continue the cycle of constant fiscal standoff.
“I know the American people are tired of it,” Obama said. “I apologize you have to go through this stuff every three months, it seems like. And Lord knows, I’m tired of it. At some point we’ve got to break these habits.”
Boehner and other Republicans continued to insist that any deal to resolve the impasse include negotiations over the budget and Obama’s health care law beforehand. House Republican leaders floated another plan to form a bipartisan negotiating committee to work on budget issues, but did not commit to reopening the government or raising the debt ceiling in the meantime.
“What the president said today was, if there’s unconditional surrender by Republicans, he’ll sit down and talk with us,” Boehner said during a five-minute press conference, in the hallway outside his office. “That’s not the way our government works.”
“I didn’t come here to shut down the government, I certainly didn’t come here to default on our debt,” he said.
Boehner also said it was “shameful” that military families are not receiving bereavement pay as a result of the shutdown. He said the House would vote on Wednesday to pay those families. But Democrats have largely refused to approve such piecemeal measures, accusing Republicans of cherry-picking politically popular programs to spare from the shutdown.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, began pressing the case for a vote planned later this week that would raise the debt ceiling without conditions. But it was unclear whether it would clear the 60-vote threshold needed to advance. Even some Senate Republicans and Democrats who previously spoke out against shutting down the government indicated on Tuesday they may vote against it, saying they would like to see deficit reduction and other changes negotiated as part of an agreement to raise the nation’s borrowing authority.
“We’ve got to negotiate. That’s what we’re here to do,” said Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia. “I’m looking at a big package that fixes our long-term debt.”
Several Republicans who have shown a willingness to buck the Tea Party faction of the GOP said on Tuesday that they believed the debt ceiling issue would have to be resolved with a deficit-reduction deal.
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew has marked Oct. 17 as a crucial date for increasing the debt limit because the nation could no longer borrow more money. But there was even debate among many Republicans over the flexibility of that date, in part because Treasury can use incoming revenue to pay some bills.
Some even suggested prioritizing payments to bond-holders, though Obama warned that delaying Social Security and other payments would send a dangerous signal to the financial markets.