WASHINGTON — House Speaker John A. Boehner stood his ground Sunday, insisting that his Republican House majority would not pass measures either to fund and reopen the entire federal government or to increase the nation’s soon-to-be-breached borrowing limit without concessions from President Barack Obama.
“There are not the votes in the House to pass a clean CR,” Boehner said on the ABC News program “This Week,” referring to a continuing resolution that would provide stopgap funding and end the government shutdown, now in its sixth day.
Some Democrats and some moderate Republicans in the House have said that together their votes would be enough to pass a spending measure necessary to reopen the government with no conditions attached. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., a Senate Democratic leader who followed Boehner on ABC, quickly countered: “Let me issue him a friendly challenge. Put it on the floor Monday or Tuesday. I would bet there are the votes to pass it.”
Similarly, on the subject of the looming deadline for Congress to increase the debt limit by Oct. 17 to avert a first-ever government default, Boehner seemed to contradict news reports in recent days that he had told Republicans privately that he ultimately would allow a vote to prevent a breach of the debt limit.
“We’re not going to pass a clean debt limit increase,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said.
He added, “I told the president, there’s no way we’re going to pass one. The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit. And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us.”
Describing the dialogue he wanted with the president, Boehner seemed to shift from demands that Obama agree to negotiations about defunding or delaying his signature health insurance law — a nonnegotiable condition, as the White House sees it — to calling once again for deficit-reduction talks aimed at reducing spending for fast-growing entitlement programs, chiefly Medicare and Medicaid.
“I’m not going to raise the debt limit without a serious conversation about dealing with problems that are driving the debt up. It would be irresponsible of me to do this,” Boehner said.
Obama has said he would negotiate long-term reductions to entitlement programs, including Social Security, and he has proposed some steps, but he says he will support such actions only if Republicans agree to raise additional revenues by closing tax loopholes for wealthy individuals and some corporations.
But Boehner ruled that out. “We’re not raising taxes,” he said.
Given the apparent impasse, the speaker was asked, “When is this going to end?”
“If I knew, I would tell you,” he said.
On the immediate issue of the budget impasse that has shuttered much of the government, Boehner acknowledged that in July he had gone to the Senate majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and offered to have the House pass a “clean” spending measure. That proposal would have set spending levels $70 billion below what Democrats wanted but would have had no controversial add-ons related to the health care law.
Democrats accepted, but now they say Boehner reneged when a faction of conservative House Republicans rejected the strategy as capitulation on the health insurance program.
The speaker explained, “I and my members decided the threat of Obamacare and what was happening was so important that it was time for us to take a stand. And we took a stand.”
“I thought the fight would be over the debt ceiling,” Boehner said. “But you know, working with my members, they decided, well, let’s do it now. And the fact is, this fight was going to come, one way or the other. We’re in the fight.”
For the Obama administration, the Treasury secretary, Jacob J. Lew, as the president’s chief financial officer, appeared on four television shows Sunday to keep the pressure on House Republicans to pass a measure to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
Lew, speaking on the CNN program “State of the Union,” emphatically reiterated the administration’s legal opinion that Obama cannot constitutionally raise the debt ceiling by himself if Congress fails to act.
“There is no option that prevents us from being in default if we’re not paying our bills,” Lew said, rejecting the idea that the president could invoke a constitutional power or take some other action to avert economic chaos if the country breached its debt limit for the first time in history.
Lew, who wrote Congress on Tuesday to say he had used his last “extraordinary measure” to manage federal accounts in ways to buy time, reiterated that the government would most likely have about $30 billion available on Oct. 17.
“And $30 billion is a lot of money, but when you think about the cash flow of the government of the United States, we have individual days when our negative or positive cash flow is $50 or $60 billion,” he said in the CNN interview. “So $30 billion is not a responsible amount of cash to run the government on.”
Since 1789, Lew added, “we’ve never gotten to the point where the United States has operated without the ability to borrow. It’s very dangerous; it’s reckless.”
On CNN and on “Fox News Sunday,” Lew repeatedly dismissed questions as to why Obama would not negotiate with House Republicans over the debt limit. Obama has said that increasing the borrowing authority is a basic congressional responsibility under the Constitution, and not one for which lawmakers can extract ransom — in this case the demand that he defund or delay his signature health care law.
“The president wants to negotiate,” Lew said on Fox. “Congress needs to do its job, and we then need to negotiate.”