Mood Changes: Parties Are Talking About Budget Deadlock
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One sign of potential progress in Washington is what President Obama and House Republicans did not say. After meeting last night at the White House, the two sides issued polite and diplomatic statements stripped of partisan rhetoric. They have not agreed to extend the federal debt ceiling or reopen the government, but they suggested they're working on it. Their meeting came at the end of an eventful day.
NPR's Ari Shapiro has our story.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Yesterday morning, House Republicans met privately on Capitol Hill. And when they emerged, House Speaker John Boehner had a proposal for the White House.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER: What we want to do is to offer the president today the ability to move.
SHAPIRO: Republicans said they would raise the debt ceiling for six weeks in order to get the president to the negotiating table, but they would also keep the government closed until they get some concessions from the White House on the budget.
BOEHNER: And I would hope that the president would look at this as an opportunity and a good faith effort on our part to move halfway - halfway to what he's demanded in order to have these conversations begin.
SHAPIRO: That appears to defy some of the more conservative House Republicans who've in the past urged Boehner not to budge. But at least yesterday there was no large-scale public rebellion within the House GOP. And the stock market responded positively.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney called the offer an encouraging sign.
JAY CARNEY: I think we ought to see whether they're serious about putting the matches and the gasoline aside.
SHAPIRO: He met the Republican proposal with caution, and some amped-up metaphors.
CARNEY: I mean if there's a recognition that we can't default, why is there an insistence or the implication that you keep the nuclear weapon in your back pocket to threaten default in the near term?
SHAPIRO: Carney was vague about whether raising the debt ceiling would be enough to make President Obama negotiate over the budget, even with the government still shut down.
CARNEY: They don't get anything in exchange for holding the economy hostage; they don't get anything in exchange for doing continued harm to the American people.
SHAPIRO: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid then showed up at the White House with the rest of the Senate Democrats. After meeting with the president, Reid took questions from reporters and drew a clear line.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Republicans were pretty clear earlier today, they want to negotiate before you reopen the government. Is that...
SEN. HARRY REID: Not going to happen.
SHAPIRO: Finally, Obama met with about 20 House Republican leaders and committee chairs. The lawmakers left the White House without talking to reporters. But back at the Capitol it seemed they'd had some sort of a breakthrough.
Pete Sessions chairs the House Rules Committee.
REP. PETE SESSION: You know what, we're going to try and work together tonight to see if we can come to an agreement. And if we can come to an agreement, then we're working well together.
SHAPIRO: That kind of late night conversation between White House and congressional staff is a big change from the standoff of the last week. Republicans wouldn't go into detail about the focus of the negotiations.
Paul Ryan chairs the House Budget Committee.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Can you be more specific about his concerns?
REP. PAUL RYAN: I'd rather not, because we're negotiating right now. No offense, we're not going to negotiate through the media, we're going negotiating straight with the White House, so...
SHAPIRO: But Congressman Hal Rogers of Kentucky suggested that more is on the table than just an offer to raise the debt ceiling for six weeks.
REP. HAL ROGERS: We're trying to find a way - find if there is a way to quickly settle the CR questions so that we can pass a CR and stop the shutdown.
SHAPIRO: A CR is a continuing resolution that would fund and reopen the government. When Rogers was asked whether Obama insisted that the government reopen before any agreement, he replied no quite.
There is a reason to think this negotiation could be about something more than just lifting the debt ceiling for six weeks. In the House of Representatives, Tea Party hardliners are likely to resist any deal to raise the debt ceiling.
It will be a tough vote for Republicans and a blow to Speaker John Boehner. So Republican dealmakers have a strong incentive to avoid a handful of small-time deals and instead settle on a bigger tough vote that they'll only have to take once.
And with a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing worse numbers than ever for the GOP in this shutdown, Republicans now have every reason to seek an endgame.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.
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