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Obama Digs In, Rejects Cutting Deals With GOP

Obama Digs In, Rejects Cutting Deals With GOP

By Alexis Simendinger - October 8, 2013

The president is not furloughed like much of the executive branch, but having canceled his plans to be in Southeast Asia for summits this week, Barack Obama had time to kill in the nation’s capital Monday.

So he filled his schedule during the ongoing shutdown stalemate by talking about congressional Republicans … without talking to them, and inviting them to approve interim relief if disagreements persist.

The president invited a collection of national columnists and opinion writers to the White House Monday, reiterating his insistence that House Speaker John Boehner has the power to immediately reopen the government and prevent the United States from defaulting on its debts.

He repeated that he won’t cut deals with conservatives -- because he thinks it would set a bad “precedent” -- just as new polling showed Republicans receiving the brunt of public rebuke for the impasse (though Americans said Obama shoulders some of the blame).

The president also popped by to visit the disaster command team at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which last week called 200 of its employees back to work to help monitor Tropical Storm Karen in the Gulf of Mexico. The president delivered a speech at FEMA headquarters, touting the agency as among the indispensable federal entities that lost much of their manpower as a result of a “manufactured” political standoff.

“I heard a lot of talk over the weekend that the real problem is that the president will not negotiate,” Obama said defensively. “Let me tell you something: I have said from the start of the year that I'm happy to talk to Republicans about anything related to the budget. There is not a subject that I am not willing to engage in, work on, negotiate and come up with common-sense compromises on.”

White House officials said Monday the administration would accept a debt ceiling measure of short duration that extends the nation’s authority to borrow beyond Oct. 17, when Treasury says default looms, if a longer accord cannot be achieved before the deadline. Specifically, the president favors at least a one-year increase, preferred by many Senate Democrats, but he’d accept anything less as long as it comes to him free of policy attachments, Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

National Economic Adviser Gene Sperling said at a breakfast sponsored by Politico that Congress determines on its own the amount Treasury can borrow, which determines how long the resources hold out to pay U.S. obligations.

“There's no question that the longer the debt limit is extended, the greater economic certainty there will be in our economy, which will be better for jobs and growth and investment,” he noted. “That said, it is the responsibility of Congress to decide how long … and how often they want to vote on doing that.”

The president said any negotiations with congressional Republicans over the Affordable Care Act, energy policies, long-term deficit reduction, or any other matters would not occur until federal workers are back on the job and the risk of default is taken off the table.

“Authorize the Treasury to pay America's bills,” he said. “Pass a budget, end the government shutdown, pay our bills and prevent an economic shutdown. And as soon as that happens, I am eager and ready to sit down and negotiate with Republicans on a whole range of issues.”

As the second week of the federal shutdown gets underway, and as the default deadline draws closer, Obama appears to have drifted further from any near-term accord with Republicans. The shutdown battle initially targeting Obamacare has devolved into a thousand GOP demands, all searching for some sort of critical mass.

As the White House worked to increase public pressure on the House speaker and his divided conference, Obama repeated he won’t budge from his “no-negotiations” posture.

Asked to explain to Americans why the president won’t try to exhaust congressional leaders into surrender by arguing with them day after day rather than at them on TV, Carney said the president tried that technique in 2011 and came up short.

“The president has and is willing to get exhausted negotiating with lawmakers over our budget priorities, but not under threat of a continued shutdown and not under threat of default,” he said. “The economic harm of that is too great.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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