The White House and House Republicans have committed to talking about ways to avoid a default on U.S. debt, the first concrete sign of a potential compromise since the government shut down 11 days ago.
The looming question is whether a short-term agreement to raise the debt ceiling will come at the expense of reopening the government and the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who remain furloughed.
On Thursday, House Republican leaderspresented a plan to their conference to raise the debt ceiling enough to allow the U.S. to continue borrowing money for six weeks with no other policy conditions. In exchange, they sought a promise from Mr. Obama to engage in negotiations to continue lowering the deficit. The proposal was the first sign of any legislation that might head off a default when the U.S. exhausts its borrowing authority on Oct. 17.
After a nearly 90-minute meeting at the White House Thursday night, there was no agreement from the White House to accept the offer - but for the first time in a week and a half, there was an agreement to continue talking.
“After a discussion about potential paths forward, no specific determination was made,” the White House said in a statement following Mr. Obama’s Thursday afternoon meeting with House Republican leaders. “The President looks forward to making continued progress with members on both sides of the aisle. The President’s goal remains to ensure we pay the bills we’ve incurred, reopen the government and get back to the business of growing the economy, creating jobs and strengthening the middle class.”
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a similar statement to the one from the White House, adding that communication would continue throughout the night. “House Republicans remain committed to good faith negotiations with the president, and we are pleased there was an opportunity to sit down and begin a constructive dialogue tonight,” the statement said.
Boehner did not talk to reporters afterward, but when the group returned to the Capitol, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the talks were productive.
“We had a very useful meeting. It was clarifying, I think, to both sides as to where we are. And the takeaway from the meeting was, our teams are going to be talking further tonight. We’ll have more discussion. We will come back to have more discussion,” Cantor said. “The President said that he would go and consult with the administration folks, and hopefully we can see a way forward after that.”
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said that president said neither yes nor no to the proposal.
The shift in the impasse came as yet another poll showed Republicans taking most of the blame for the shutdown. A Wall Street Journal/NBC pollout late Thursday showed 70 percent of Americans blamed congressional Republicans for putting their political agenda ahead of what’s good for the country, echoing other recent polls.
The question that emerged throughout the day was whether the White House and Senate Democrats would be willing to decouple the debt ceiling from the government shutdown, which would not end under the Republican proposal as it stood Thursday morning.
There are indications that a short-term spending bill to reopen the government, known as a continuing resolution or CR, is part of the conversation between Mr. Obama and House Republicans.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., told reporters after the White House meeting that Republicans and the president are “trying to find if there’s a way to quickly settle the CR questions.” Part of the discussions involve what everyone would seek from a continuing resolution.
CBS News Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes reports House Republican leaders feel strongly they can’t vote to fund the government without getting some kind of face-saving concession, and they believe they convinced Mr. Obama of that this evening. As one aide put it, “it was very clear that this clean debt limit was our coming halfway and now he needs to have a down payment as well.”
They need Democrats to give them something they can sell to their members and constituents as a win, Cordes points out. Otherwise they have little to show for a 10-day shutdown beyond a vague promise of debt talks to come.
One aide told Cordes it just needs to be a “fig leaf”—sort of a signal from the president that he is serious about debt reduction negotiations.
In the meantime, Reid is scheduling his own debt limit bill in the Senate, which would extend the limit through 2014 and not include any spending cuts, something Republicans are looking for before supporting a long-term debt limit increase.
Senate Republicans have also been discussing a plan offered by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that would fund the government, repeal the medical device tax in the health care law, and give federal agencies the flexibility to manage the across-the-board budget cuts mandated by the sequester, subject to congressional oversight. The plan has won praise by some of her Republican colleagues.
Two groups of Republican senators met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Thursday to discuss the proposal.
“I think we are building consensus amongst Republicans,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters following one of the meetings Thursday. While he didn’t know what the timeline would be, he said, “For the first time there seems to be some real movement.”