WASHINGTON — With Congress momentarily freed from the Syrian crisis, lawmakers plunged back into their fiscal standoff on Thursday as Speaker John A. Boehner appealed to the Obama administration and Democratic leaders to help him resolve divisions in the Republican ranks that could lead to a government shutdown by month’s end.
In meetings with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders Thursday after a session with Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew on Wednesday, Boehner sought a resumption of negotiations that could keep the government running and yield a deficit-reduction deal that would persuade recalcitrant conservatives to raise the government’s borrowing limit.
Much of the US government will shut down Oct. 1 unless Congress approves new spending bills to replace expiring ones, and by mid-October, the Treasury Department will lose the borrowing authority to finance the government and pay its debts.
“It’s time for the president’s party to show the courage to work with us to solve this problem,” said Boehner.
But 43 House Republicans undercut the speaker’s deficit-reduction focus, introducing yearlong funding legislation that would increase Pentagon and veterans spending and delay President Obama’s health care law a year, most likely adding to the budget deficit. That bloc is large enough to thwart any compromise that does not attract Democratic support.
“Obamacare is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed in Congress,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “It is the most existential threat to our economy” that the country has seen “since the Great Depression, so I think a little bit of additional deficit is nothing.”
Five scheduled legislative days stand between the House and a government shutdown that has loomed for months. Republican leaders appear to have no idea how to stop it. House members are preparing for the worst. Representative Scott Rigell, Republican of Virginia, began circulating a 14-page fact sheet on the impact of a government shutdown.
Lew and congressional Democrats held firm that they would no longer negotiate on raising the debt ceiling, which they see as the duty of the party in power in the House. And they made it clear to the speaker that they would never accept Republican demands to repeal, defund, or delay Obama’s signature health care law. White House officials dismissed it as “a nonstarter.”
“I told him directly, all these things they’re doing on Obamacare are just a waste of their time,” said Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the Senate majority leader. “Their direction is the direction toward shutting down.”
Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican, proposed a two-step resolution to the fiscal impasse.
Under Cantor’s plan, the House would have voted this week on a stopgap spending bill to keep the government operating through mid-December at the current level, which reflects sharp, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. That bill would have a companion resolution to withhold all money for the health care law, but the Senate could simply ignore that resolution and approve the short-term spending bill.