October 7, 2013

Boehner: Negotiate or default

The defiant House speaker rejects calls to pass a ‘clean’ debt-limit increase.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday defiantly rejected calls to reopen the government and raise the federal debt limit, warning that the nation is headed for a first-ever default unless President Obama starts negotiating with Republicans.

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House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, leaves the House floor after votes on Saturday in Washington. On ABC’s “This Week” program Sunday, he said President Obama “is risking default by not having a conversation with us.”

The Washington Post/Melina Mara

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In this photo provided by CBS News, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in Washington on Sunday. Cornyn said the partial federal government shutdown cannot end without President Barack Obama sitting down with congressional Republicans.”What he needs to do is to roll up his sleeves,” Cornyn said. “We’re not going to resolve this without the president engaging,” he said. “So far, he’s been AWOL,” he added.

The Associated Press

“That’s the path we’re on,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said on ABC’s “This Week.” Of Obama, he added: “He knows what my phone number is. All he has to do is call.”

Sitting for his first television interview since congressional gridlock shut down most federal agencies nearly a week ago, Boehner sought to dispel the perception that he has been cornered by right-wing rebels and is desperately looking for a way out. In recent days, rank-and-file Republicans have said Boehner has told them he will not let the nation default on its obligations, even if that means raising the nation’s borrowing limit primarily with Democratic votes.

On Sunday, Boehner said he has no intention of collapsing in unconditional surrender. “We are not going to pass a ‘clean’ debt-limit increase” – one without additional concessions from Democrats – he said.

“I told the president, there’s no way we’re going to pass one. The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit,” Boehner said. “And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us.”

As Boehner hardened his stance, the White House did the same, dispatching Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to appear on four of the six major Sunday talk shows. Repeatedly, Lew said Obama is willing to enter negotiations to address the nation’s long-term budget problems but not until Republicans drop their campaign against Obama’s health-care initiative, end the government shutdown and lift the $16.7 trillion debt limit.

“We just spent the last several months with Congress creating this ridiculous choice where either you repeal the Affordable Care Act or you shut down the government or default on the United States. That is not the way we should do business,” Lew said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Republicans “need to open the government. They need to fund our ability to pay our bills,” Lew said. “And then we’re open to negotiation.”

DEVASTATING DEADLINE

The standoff leaves a shuttered Washington hurtling toward a potentially devastating deadline on Oct. 17, when Lew has said he will exhaust available measures to conserve cash and begin relying entirely on incoming revenue.

Lew ducked questions Sunday about whether that means the nation would immediately default. He said that he cannot predict when he will run short of cash to make required payments and warned that lawmakers are “playing with fire” if they do not act fast to grant him additional authority to borrow.

Independent analysts have offered a more specific timetable, saying default is likely no later than Nov. 1, when the Treasury Department is scheduled to make nearly $60 billion in payments to Social Security recipients, Medicare providers, civil-service retirees and active-duty military service members.

“I see no way Treasury could make the obligations of that day” without additional borrowing authority, said Nancy Vanden Houten, a senior analyst at Stone & McCarthy Research Associates who studies the Treasury Department’s borrowing needs.

A daily outflow of that size is unusually large, Vanden Houten said, occurring only when the third of the month falls on a weekend. The third of the month is when the Treasury Department cuts the largest of four monthly rounds of Social Security checks. Those payments must be shifted to the last business day before they are due - in this case, Friday, Nov. 1, when the department is already facing a stack of other obligations.

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