Obama presses Republicans to end budget extortion

In a long press conference, Obama reiterates his refusal to negotiate a budget under strict Republican terms

Obama speaks at a press conference at the White House Tuesday.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Barack Obama warned Tuesday that a U.S. debt default could wreak havoc, adding that he would talk to congressional Republicans about any topic but still urging them to raise the debt limit without conditions.

He held a press conference at the White House hours after he called House Speaker John Boehner. Obama said he told Boehner he would not hold talks under the threat of a debt default or of keeping the government shut.

In his remarks, which included a long question-and-answer session with reporters, the president said that while he was happy to have wide-ranging discussions with Republicans on any number of issues, including the budget, he was not willing to negotiate under terms he labeled extortion.

"Members of Congress, and the House Republicans in particular, don't get to demand ransom in exchange for doing their jobs," he said. "And two of their very basic jobs are passing a budget and making sure that America's paying its bills."

While bemoaning the second week of the government shutdown, Obama emphasized the disastrous economic impacts that failing to raise the debt ceiling would have.

He also tried to clear up up what he thought might be some confusion on the issue.

"It is not raising our debt," Obama said of increasing the debt ceiling. "It simply says you pay for what Congress has already authorized America to purchase, whether that's the greatest military in the world or veterans' benefits or Social Security."

The president was unequivocal about the cause of the impasse: "Republican obsession with dismantling the Affordable Care Act."

Reid's proposal

Click for more on the shutdown and the debt-ceiling impasse

Earlier Tuesday, Senate Democrats said they would try to pass a stand-alone measure to raise the government's borrowing cap while the budget impasse continues, forcing Republicans to take a position on an issue that is considered to have a much stronger bearing on the long-term health of the nation's economy.

A spokesman told The Associated Press that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could unveil the measure as early as Tuesday, setting the table for a test vote later in the week. The measure is expected to provide enough borrowing room to last beyond next year's elections, which means it likely will permit $1 trillion or more in borrowing above the current $16.7 trillion ceiling, which the administration says the federal government will hit on Oct. 17.

Before his phone call with the president, Boehner again requested negotiations to reduce the deficit.

"There is nothing on the table, there's nothing off the table," he told reporters after a meeting of Republican House members in which they agreed to insist on deficit-reduction negotiations with Obama as a condition for raising the federal debt limit.

The last budget showdown, in 2011, also prompted fears that the U.S. would enter into default if it failed to raise the debt ceiling. That standoff ended after the president agreed to the enactment of stringent budget cuts demanded by congressional Republicans.

This time around, Obama and congressional Democrats are adamant that there will be no budget negotiations tied to the separate debt-ceiling issue, arguing that that would unduly threaten the creditworthiness of the U.S. government.

It's not clear whether Reid's gambit will work. Republicans are expected to oppose the measure if it doesn't contain budget cuts to make a dent in deficits. The question then hinges on whether Republicans would filibuster the measure.

Until recently, debt-limit increases were not targets of filibusters; the first in memory came four years ago, when Democrats controlled the Senate with a filibuster-proof 60 votes.

Many Republicans in the Senate, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Whip John Cornyn of Texas, have voted for so-called clean debt-limit increases during Republican administrations.

Some Republicans seemed wary of participating in a filibuster that could rattle the stock and bond markets.

"We shouldn't be dismissing anything out of hand, whether it's the debt ceiling or what we're going to do with this government shutdown," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. "We've got a situation where you've got a calendar running, you've got people who are frustrated and upset, so let's figure it out."

Meanwhile, a new Gallup poll released Monday showed the job approval rating of Congress down to 11 percent, only 1 percentage point above its all-time low. That number, down from 19 percent a month ago, according to the same poll, was largely due to a decline in approval by Democratic-affiliated respondents.

Another poll released Monday, by the Washington Post and ABC, revealed that Americans were more likely to blame congressional Republicans for the budget showdown than congressional Democrats or Obama. Only 24 percent of respondents said Republicans are handling budget negotiations favorably, compared with 35 percent for Democrats and 45 percent for the president.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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