In a press conference Tuesday, President Obama opened the door to negotiations with congressional Republicans if they will pass even short-term measures to fund the government and lift the debt ceiling, as long as no strings are attached.
On Day 8 of a partial shutdown of the federal government, and nine days before the government reaches the limit of its borrowing authority, Mr. Obama said he would talk about “anything” – health care, spending, deficit reduction – but he won’t agree to make concessions just to get to the table.
The president spoke on the phone Tuesday morning with Republican House Speaker John Boehner, but the two reported no headway in their impasse.
“I am happy to talk with him and other Republicans about anything – not just issues I think are important but also issues that they think are important,” Obama told reporters in the White House briefing room.
“But I also told him that having such a conversation, talks, negotiations shouldn't require hanging the threats of a government shutdown or economic chaos over the heads of the American people.”
Speaker Boehner has refused to bring to the House floor a so-called “clean continuing resolution,” or CR – a measure to fund government operations without added provisions, including riders that would defund or delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats say that there are enough votes to pass such a measure if Boehner is willing to rely mostly on Democratic votes to pass it. Boehner denies there are enough votes to pass a “clean CR,” and wants the president to negotiate an end to the government shutdown.
Obama also said he’s willing to head up to the Hill and have discussions with “reasonable Republicans” on entitlement reform and tax reform.
“I'll even spring for dinner again,” the president said. “But 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.”
Obama suggested he had learned a lesson from his experience in summer 2011, when he and Boehner entered into negotiations over raising the debt ceiling, and saw the nation come close to potential default.
“And whenever I see John Boehner to this day, I still say, you should have taken the deal that I offered you back then,” Obama said.
On Capitol Hill, Boehner rejected Obama’s proposal to pass a clean CR and debt ceiling increase.
"The president's position that ... we're not going to sit down and talk to you until you surrender is just not sustainable," Boehner said. "It's not our system of government."
At his press conference, Obama also rejected the controversial idea of interpreting the 14th Amendment in a way that would allow him to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally.
“The damage will have been done even if that were constitutional, because people wouldn't be sure” if it was legal, he said. “It'd be tied up in litigation for a long time.”
He also dismissed the idea that the president can "roll out a big coin” to resolve the situation, referring to an idea that the Treasury can mint a trillion-dollar platinum coin to get around the debt ceiling. The concept goes back to the 1997 Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act, but has never received widespread acceptance. The Treasury Department rejects it.