The government shutdown entered its second week Tuesday, and all sides said the pain is deepening — but that fight is being overshadowed quickly by the looming debt battle, which Democrats see as a last chance to try to break the tea party’s influence on the GOP.
Senate Democrats said they will try to pass a 15-month debt-limit holiday, which would let the government borrow without consequence until after the 2014 elections, but House Republicans countered with a call for a supercommittee to work out a solution.
Meanwhile, President Obama stuck by his line in the sand, saying in a news conference at the White House that he won’t talk until congressional Republicans concede.
“If reasonable Republicans want to talk about these things again, I’m ready to head up to the Hill and try,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ll even spring for dinner again, 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 a part of our democracy.”
Mr. Boehner, the House speaker, said Mr. Obama was in effect demanding an “unconditional surrender” from Republicans before entering into negotiations — a stance the Ohio Republican said was unacceptable.
“The long and short of it is there’s going to be a negotiation here. We can’t raise the debt ceiling without doing something about what’s driving us to borrow more money and to live beyond our means,” he told reporters. “This isn’t about me and, frankly, it’s not about Republicans. This is about saving the future for our kids and our grandkids, and the only way this is going to happen is to in fact have a conversation.”
Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner did speak on the phone early Tuesday. The House speaker called the conversation “pleasant,” but they found no middle ground. By the afternoon the two sides were staging news conferences to declare they hadn’t budged.
The showmanship extended to the chamber floors, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, used a parliamentary maneuver to force all senators to come, then proceeded to deliver a defiant speech saying Republicans would need to give in to demands if there is to be a resolution.
Hours later, Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, took to the chamber floor with a giant credit card printed with the government’s $16.7 trillion debt, and proceeded to use a pair of shears to cut it up.
He said regular Americans can’t just demand a credit limit increase without proving to banks that they are getting their finances in order, and he said the federal government shouldn’t be allowed a strings-free debt increase either. “We are the adolescents and the people in the states are the grown-ups,” he said.
With the Oct. 1 deadline for a government shutdown having come and gone without producing an agreement, both sides are now eyeing the Oct. 17 date when the Treasury Department says it will run out of room to maneuver on the debt.
Democrats said that could mean a government default and could prevent Social Security or Medicare from sending checks. Republicans countered that those warnings were overblown and would come to pass only if Mr. Obama prioritizes wasteful spending over paying the government’s important bills.
House Republican leaders proposed a way out of the shutdown fight and the debt limit battle by calling for a supercommittee to recommend big solutions for spending, taxes and the annual deficit.
But Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats rejected that idea outright, holding fast to their demand that the government be opened and the debt be raised before any official talks begin.
Mr. Reid introduced legislation to remove the debt limit until Dec. 31, 2014, granting a 15-month holiday for the government to borrow without conditions. His bill contains no spending controls or tax increases to address the issues Republicans have raised.
House Republicans, meanwhile, emerged from a morning meeting to say they were united in their demand that Mr. Obama sit down to negotiate with them, and proposed their supercommittee idea.
“House Republicans have continually asked the Senate majority leader and the president to negotiate with us, and we know up to now that is not working well,” said Rep. Pete Sessions, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Rules Committee. “While major disagreement exists, I am … confident that meaningful negotiations can deal with the government shutdown and appropriately address our nation’s problems and debts.”
House Democrats rolled their eyes at the proposal, saying it was a waste of time. They said previous supercommittees did not yield much in the way of results and that this proposal was additionally flawed because the committee would not be charged with looking for revenue increases to help balance the budget.
Rep. Xavier Becerra, California Democrat, said the nation would be better off if Mr. Boehner simply allowed a vote on a bill that the Senate passed last month to fund all government operations and Obamacare through mid-November.
“We’re paid to make progress, we’re paid to help businesses put people to work. We’re not paid to shut down the government, we’re not paid to default on our past obligations and put our economy and every American family’s pocketbook at risk,” Mr. Becerra said.
House Republicans also continued their piecemeal approach to funding government operations, pushing bills to make sure that “essential” government employees are paid on time and to fund the Head Start school programs for children from low-income families.
• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.
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