Dems say it’s time for GOP to unite, end shutdown
Published 10:55 am Friday, October 4, 2013
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama decided to stay home from economic summits in Asia as Democrats stepped up pressure Friday on congressional Republicans to rein in their tea party faction and reopen the government with no strings attached.
House Speaker John Boehner shot back with an assertion that “this isn’t some damn game.”
The White House had earlier called the partial government shutdown “completely avoidable” and complained that the disruption in federal agencies and governmental services was interfering with the president’s efforts to promote trade and U.S. influence in emerging world markets.
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As the partial shutdown entered its fourth day, Democrats pointed to disagreements within the Republican Party, where reluctant congressional leaders were prodded into a showdown over government funding and Obama’s health care law by rowdier conservatives, such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
To get the government up and running again, “it will take some coming together on the Republican side,” said the House’s lead Democrat, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.
“It’s very hard to negotiate with the Republicans when they can’t negotiate with themselves,” Pelosi said.
Boehner, R-Ohio, told a news conference later Friday morning that the GOP still is demanding that the White House and congressional Democrats negotiate with Republicans about ways to re-open the government.
Boehner told reporters that House Republicans still want “fairness to the American people” under the program critics call “Obamacare.”
Senate Chaplain Barry Black opened Friday’s business with a plea for God to “give our lawmakers the vision and the willingness to see and to do your will.”
“Remove from them that stubborn pride which imagination itself to be above and beyond criticism,” he intoned. “Forgive them for the blunders they have committed, infusing them with the courage to admit and correct mistakes.”
On Thursday, Obama directly criticized Boehner for failing to bring up a House floor vote to finance the full reopening of the government without conditions.
“Speaker John Boehner won’t even let the bill get a yes-or-no vote, because he doesn’t want to anger the extremists in his party. That’s all. That’s what this whole thing is about,” Obama said Thursday at a campaign-style event at a Rockville, Md., construction company.
Boehner and other Republicans put the blame on Obama. They say he should recognize the flaws of “Obamacare” and negotiate solutions as part of a deal to end the shutdown that forced the furlough of some 800,000 workers, more than a third of federal civilian employees.
Boehner said Obama was being “irresponsible.”
And on Friday, House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy of California said that Obama’s decision to cancel his trip to Asia offered “the perfect opportunity to begin negotiations.”
McCarthy joined Boehner at the news conference just as the House was ready to resume the GOP drive to finance certain agencies and programs on a piecemeal basis — a strategy rejected by Obama and the Democratic-led Senate.
“We are not picking winners and losers,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said Friday on MSNBC. “I think what we are doing is exercising stewardship over the taxpayers’ dollars. …I’m ready to go to work today and get it done.”
The House planned a vote later Friday to fund a popular program providing food aid to pregnant women and their children, as well as ongoing disaster relief.
Furloughed federal workers were expected to get some relief with legislation authorizing back pay due for a vote on Friday or Saturday in the House. Some top Democrats have supported that idea alongside Republicans.
Obama had been scheduled to leave Saturday for economic summits next week in Indonesia and Brunei. His decision to cancel those plans underscored how entrenched both sides were in a partisan showdown with no end in sight.
Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Bali, Indonesia, on Friday to head the U.S. delegation to the summits.
“The cancellation of this trip is another consequence of the House Republicans forcing a shutdown of the government,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “This completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to create jobs through promotion of U.S. exports and advance U.S. leadership and interests in the largest emerging region in the world.”
Lawmakers said the shutdown that began Tuesday when the government began its new budget year seemed to be quickly merging with a more critical showdown over the nation’s expiring line of credit, raising the stakes for the still-fragile economy.
Obama and his Treasury Department said failure to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, expected to hit its $16.7 trillion cap in mid-October, could precipitate an economic nosedive worse than the recent Great Recession. A default could cause the nation’s credit markets to freeze, the value of the dollar to plummet and U.S. interest rates to skyrocket, according to a Treasury report.
Obama cataloged a litany of troubles that could be caused by the failure to raise the debt ceiling, from delayed Social Security and disability checks to worldwide economic repercussions.
“If we screw up, everybody gets screwed up,” he said.
The speaker’s office reiterated Boehner’s past assertion that he would not let the government default on its debt. “But if we’re going to raise the debt limit, we need to deal with the drivers of our debt and deficits,” his spokesman, Michael Steel, said. “That’s why we need a bill with cuts and reforms to get our economy moving again.”
Obama is pushing hard against expectations that he needs to give concessions in exchange for a normally routine stopgap funding bill. And on the separate debt limit increase, needed to make sure that the U.S. can pay all of its bills on time and in full, Democrats pointed to the debt ceiling increases they gave to former President George W. Bush without any strings attached.