NEW: Senate Minority Leader McConnell calls White House meeting "unproductive"
NEW: Neither side discussed any potential compromise, a GOP source says
An 'exasperated' Obama says no negotiations until the government reopens
The government shut down began on Tuesday in a stalemate over spending
After weeks of talking past each other, congressional leaders and President Barack Obama talked to each other Wednesday evening – only to emerge evidently no closer to a deal to halt the government’s budget stalemate.
The White House meeting, coming a day after the start of the federal government shutdown, served at least one purpose, in that key players in the debate gathered together in the same room for over an hour: Obama called it “useful,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was “worthwhile,” and House Speaker John Boehner cast it as a “polite conversation.”
But while the sides talked, there was no indication they agreed on anything or even shifted their views.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, went so far as to call it “unproductive.” Neither side discussed any potential compromises, with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden doing most of the talking and Boehner making clear he won’t go forward with a “clean” funding bill – with no Obamacare amendments – a GOP congressional source said.
Republicans, led by tea party conservatives in the House, have demanded provisions to defund or delay Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act be attached to any government spending plan, a strategy that Democrats have called a non-starter.
Moreover, the parties are on the verge of another crisis – over whether to raise the debt ceiling by October 17, at which point the federal government won’t be able to pay its bills.
“At times like this, the American people expect their leaders to come together to find ways to resolve their differences,” Boehner said. “The president reiterated one more time tonight that he will not negotiate.”
A few minutes later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claimed that it was Boehner – not the president or his fellow Democrats – who has refused to budge on budgetary matters, saying “we’re through playing these little games.”
Reid said Democratic leaders offered Boehner “a lifeline” by setting up negotiations “about anything that you want to talk about” so long as the House agrees to reopen the government first.
“I thought that they were concerned about the long-term fiscal affairs of this country. And we said, ‘we are too. Let’s talk about it,’” the Nevada Democrat said. “My friend, John Boehner … cannot take yes for an answer.”
In an interview with CNBC prior to the meeting, Obama said he was “prepared to negotiate on anything” regarding the federal budget – but only after Congress passes “a clean piece of legislation that reopens the government” and allows the U.S. “Treasury to pay for things that Congress itself already authorized.”
“Am I exasperated?” Obama said of Boehner, who is under pressure from fiscal hawks, and is refusing to let the House vote on the Senate-approved spending plan. “I am absolutely exasperated, because this is entirely unnecessary.”
The president foreshadowed Boehner’s comments that he wouldn’t negotiate with Republicans in their attempts to tie government funding to Obamacare changes. Doing so, the president said, would set a dangerous precedent.
“If we get in the habit where a few folks, an extremist wing of one party … are allowed to extort concessions based on a threat of undermining the full faith and credit of the United States, then any president that comes after me … will find themselves unable to govern effectively,” Obama said. “And that is not something that I’m going to allow to happen.”