Obama rallies House Dems at White House
BY LYNN SWEET Washington Bureau Chief October 9, 2013 9:56PM
In this Oct. 8, 2013, photo, President Barack Obama pauses as he talks about the the budget and the partial government shutdown in the Brady Press Room of the White House in Washington. A new poll says Americans are holding Republicans primarily responsible for the partial government shutdown. The Associated Press-GfK survey finds plenty of disdain to go around as people size up the federal impasse. Most now disapprove of the way Obama is handling his job. And Congress approval rating is a perilous 5 percent. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Updated: November 11, 2013 12:35PM
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama rallied House Democrats at the White House on Wednesday as the debate over the debt limit and the partial federal government shutdown is starting to subtly shift — from gutting Obamacare to shaving budgets for programs liberal Democrats hold dear.
All 200 House Democrats were invited to the meeting, and almost all attended, as prospects loom for some fractures in Democratic unity.
Obama’s meeting with House Democrats lasted over an hour, and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) told me the face-to-face session was “like a family going through a difficult stressful time sitting down for dinner.”
The White House invited all 232 House Republicans to the White House on Thursday — a gathering that could have been explosive. But House Speaker John Boehner decided instead that only the 18 top GOP leaders, including Chief Deputy Whip Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), would attend.
Boehner’s office called them 18 “negotiators,” with the word used deliberately to punch at Obama’s insistence that he will not address GOP demands to negotiate until the debt ceiling is lifted and funding in place for all of federal government to reopen.
Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) told me that at the White House meeting, “people understood that at some point there would be negotiations, but not while someone is holding a gun to the economy.”
Thursday marks the 10th day of the shutdown with the calendar racing toward the Oct. 17 deadline for Congress to raise the debt limit or risk the first default in U.S. history.
The shutdown started Oct. 1, after House Republicans blocked a stopgap $986 billion funding measure in what is now a failed bid to derail Obamacare, the president’s signature health care law.
With Obamacare off the table for now, a new player has emerged, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman — and Mitt Romney’s 2012 running mate — who has stayed out of the fray these past weeks.
Ryan jumped in Wednesday with a column in the Wall Street Journal where he suggested “to break the deadlock, both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country’s entitlement programs and tax code.”
Ryan did not mention Obamacare as he targeted changes in Social Security and Medicare — programs Democratic progressives are dedicated to protecting.
On top of that is another complication. Remember the sequester, the across-the-board forced spending cuts that came about because Congress could not agree on a fiscal plan?
Those spending levels are still in place. That $986 billion is the reduced sequester figure.
As the calls for negotiations grow louder from GOP lawmakers, House and Senate Democrats are talking more about how they made a big concession in agreeing to the $986 billion in a stopgap measure.
After meeting with Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaking to reporters — and making the point that Democrats have already compromised — said, “We said yes to them for their numbers, which we don’t like.”
All parties — House and Senate Republicans and Democrats, and Obama — seem headed toward an agreement for a short-term debt-ceiling measure in order to calm nervous financial markets around the world.
Even before the shutdown, lawmakers were only aiming to fund the federal government until mid-November or mid-December. Pelosi said Wednesday she was only looking for six weeks “because the number [$986 billion] is not acceptable.”
“To be honest with you, I don’t know how it is going to end,” Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) told me. As the House Democratic meeting wrapped up, she went up to Obama. Hugging the president, Kelly told him, “We got your back.”