Obama, Boehner negotiations at standstill; focus moves to the Senate

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President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at a November meeting (CNN)

President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. (Credit: CNN)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Talks between House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama over the government shutdown and looming debt limit deadline have hit a brick wall. Attention now turns to the Senate, where members are working on a separate plan to reopen the government.

The Democratic leadership of the Senate was scheduled to meet with Obama at the White House on Saturday afternoon.

The standstill between Boehner and Obama has put on hold any the possibility that the House would vote on its proposal to reopen the government this weekend. While leadership would remain in Washington to continue work, rank-and-file members have begun returning home to their districts until Monday afternoon.

In the Senate’s court

The Senate is now front and center. The upper chamber defeated a procedural measure Saturday afternoon to extend the debt limit with no strings attached. While a vote had little chance of passing, the real work is being done behind the scenes.

And the heavy lifters are taking the lead.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said he and his counterpart, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell are involved in “cordial” and “preliminary” discussions.

Although there is “nothing conclusive” yet, Reid said, “I hope that our talking is some solace to the American people and the world.”

Indicating that Republicans are now more willing to negotiate, Reid said McConnell approached him to begin talks. “This hasn’t happened until now,” Reid said.

7 crazy side effects from the shutdown

Reid also noted that a proposal by a bipartisan group of senators is no longer on the table.

The proposal, led by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, would fund the government for six months, extend the debt limit and delay a medical device tax that is part of the Affordable Care Act.

But Democrats rejected that plan because it treats opening the government as a “concession.”

Reid continues to demand that any plan include a “clean” bill with no strings attached that raises the debt limit and reopens the government.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said progress is being made. “I think our Republican colleagues are moving in our direction with the fact that Obamacare is not a major part of the discussion any more among most all Senate and many House Republicans,” he said.

Tennessee Republican Bob Corker said that Reid and McConnell “will continue to talk over the weekend.”

“Again, it is very evident that the White House is not going to be involved in negotiations, at least at this point they are not, and that the centerpiece is Reid and McConnell. So I think all of us want to support those efforts and hopefully they bear fruit over the weekend,” Corker said.

Corker said that lawmakers continue to talk to each other and that discussions are “good.”

Obama and Boehner

Republican leadership told the Republican caucus during a Saturday morning meeting that the president will not accept their proposal to raise the debt limit for six weeks.

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said Saturday that “the President rejected our deal.”

The standstill comes after a Friday afternoon phone call between Boehner and Obama, when they decided keep talking.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, said the President is waiting for a better offer.

“It doesn’t seem like the White House is serious at all about entering negotiations with us until they see what comes out of the Senate. If they get something out of the Senate that’s weaker than our negotiated position, it obviously strengthens their position,” Kinzinger said.

The lack of a mechanism in the House proposal to immediately reopen the government — which has been partially shut down since October 1, prompting the furlough of hundreds of thousands of workers, the closing of national parks and an increase in public anger — turned off many Senators.

The back story

The path to a breakthrough cleared slightly Thursday after a meeting between Obama and House Republicans. The President said he would consider their proposal to lift the debt ceiling for six weeks.

But many in the Senate, including both Republicans and Democrats, were not happy with the House proposal to extend the debt limit but keep the government closed. So a bipartisan group started working on their own plan.

Furthermore, some Senate Republicans also see their House colleagues as part of the problem.

There is growing concern being expressed in private meetings that the House GOP plan to extend the debt ceiling for six weeks would come back to haunt the party because it would expire close to the holidays, hurting retailers.

There also are worries about the impact of the partial shutdown dragging on, especially with polls showing the Republican Party getting the brunt of the blame.

Several GOP Senators said that if Boehner fails to make progress on his plan, they’ll push their own plan.

Some conservatives — like tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas — left a meeting Friday between Obama and Senate Republicans upset at Obama for continuing to insist the government must reopen and the debt ceiling must be increased before he would take part in full-fledged negotiations on deficit reduction.

“There was an awful lot of talking, but the president still says he won’t negotiate,” said Cruz, who spearheaded the attempt last month to add anti-Obamacare amendments to a spending plan needed to prevent the government shutdown.

Source: Obama, Ryan exchange shifts tone

One potentially pivotal meeting came Thursday evening, when House GOP leaders went to the White House.

The two sides went around and around for an hour, getting nowhere. Then — as first reported by Deirdre Walsh and Dana Bash, citing multiple attendees — an exchange between Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Florida, and Obama seemed to clear the air.

CNN Chief National Correspondent John King said that Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, “said something to the effect of, ‘Look, we know you don’t like our position, we know you probably don’t respect our position, but we’re the Republican majority.'”

Those comments changed the tone of the meeting, King said. Obama reiterated his opposition to negotiations before the government reopens, then urged GOP leaders to go ask their colleagues what they want done to make that happen.

Republican Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida said the interaction between the two men — who squared off in the 2012 election when Ryan ran as his party’s vice presidential nominee — “was an important part of the conversation.”

“Paul and the President certainly have a past through the last election, and I think there’s a great respect between them. And you can’t make that up.” Southerland said.

The new atmosphere was reflected in both sides’ comments after the meeting. The White House called it good and said the parties discussed “potential paths forward.”

Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, said they were talking “in good faith” about both the debt and reopening the government.

“We’re all working together now,” said Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican.

But that good faith hasn’t yet produced any results and all eyes are now on the Senate.

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1 Comment

  • Summer

    As a Government employee, I know that I enjoy above average pay and benefits; but like most people, my family and I live just within our means (if not beyond). During the shutdown, we’ve had to use what little emergency funds we had to meet our monthly obligations. Still, facing a dreadful uncertain future, I would not ask the President and company to give in to the demands made by the rich, greedy Republicans, in terrorist fashion, to take away benefits from those in need. I commend the Democractic party for holding out and staying strong, even given the hardships its caused me and my family.

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