J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
Washington — President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner offered hints of possible compromise but also traded heated rhetoric Tuesday, a frustratingly inconclusive combination that left the eight-day partial government shutdown firmly in place and the threat of an unprecedented national default drawing closer.
“There’s a crack there,” Boehner said of the impasse near the end of a day of maneuvering at the White House and the Capitol. Yet the Ohio Republican added that it was not enough to warrant optimism.
Stocks fell significantly — the Dow Jones average by 159 points — as political gridlock endured. And, in the latest in a string of dire warnings, the International Monetary Fund said failure to raise America’s debt limit could lead to default and disrupt worldwide financial markets, raise interest rates and push the U.S economy back into recession.
Republicans “don’t get to demand ransom in exchange for doing their jobs,” Obama said at the White House. “They don’t also get to say, you know, unless you give me what the voters rejected in the last election, I’m going to cause a recession.”
In Congress, a plan by Senate Democrats to raise the debt limit by $1 trillion to stave off a possible default drew little evidence of support from Republicans.
And a proposal by the House Republicans to create a working group of 20 lawmakers to tackle deficit issues drew a veto threat from the White House, the latest in a string of them as the administration insists the GOP reopen the government and avert default before any negotiations on deficit reduction or the three-year-old health care law can take place.
On a day in which both Obama and Boehner appeared on live television, both men appeared to be giving ground yet yielding little if anything of substance.
At midmorning, Boehner and other Republicans seemed to soften their demands.
“I suspect we can work out a mechanism to raise the debt ceiling while a negotiation is under way,” said Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican.
The speaker, who had previously insisted on specific changes in the health care law as the price for preventing the shutdown, told reporters, “I want to have a conversation (with Obama and Democrats.) I’m not drawing any lines in the sand. It’s time for us to just sit down and resolve our differences.”
Asked if he was willing to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government for a short period, the Ohio Republican sidestepped. “I’m not going to get into a whole lot of speculation,” he said.
A few hours later, Obama told a news conference he was willing to negotiate with Republicans on budget and other issues if Congress passed even short-term legislation to end the crisis.
“What the president said today was if there’s unconditional surrender by Republicans, he’ll sit down and talk,” Boehner said 90 minutes later. Renewing his call for “a conversation” about key issues facing the country, the Ohio Republican said, “Not next week. Not next month. The conversation ought to start today.”
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has said the deadline for Congress to act is Oct., 17, setting that as the day the government will exhaust its ability to borrow funds and will have to rely day-to-day on tax and other receipts to pay its bills.
Some Republicans have downplayed the significance of the Oct. 17 deadline, saying that even then, the United States would be able to pay avoid widespread economic dislocation.
“There’s no way to default,” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Grand Rapids, said Tuesday. “There’s enough money coming into the Treasury to pay interest and to roll over principal.”