Prospects of quickly ending a partial government shutdown seemed unlikely Thursday as President Barack Obama and Republicans continued pointing fingers at one another – and as Obama placed the blame squarely on House Speaker John Boehner.
Speaking at a Maryland construction company, Obama insisted there are enough Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives to pass a measure to reopen the government, but that Boehner refuses to defy House conservatives.
“The only thing that is keeping the government shut down, the only thing preventing people from going back to work and basic research starting back up . . . is that Speaker John Boehner won’t even let the bill get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote because he doesn’t want to anger the extremists in his party,” Obama said.
He called on Boehner, R-Ohio, to put up for a vote a measure to restart the government that doesn’t include repeal or delay of the health care law.
“Put it on the floor and let every individual member of Congress make up their own minds,” Obama said. “It should be that simple.”
Boehner insisted Republicans want to resolve the dispute “as soon as possible,” but he said it would require “Democrats to realize neither side gets everything it wants.”
Republicans are insistent on delaying or defunding Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and Boehner said that reports of problems with the health care websites underscore the need to negotiate.
“With Obamacare proving to be a train wreck, the president’s insistence on steamrolling ahead with this flawed program is irresponsible,” Boehner said. “It’s time for the president and Senate Democrats to come to the negotiating table and drop their my-way-or-the-highway approach that gave us this shutdown.”
There’s been some talk of fashioning a government funding bill that includes repeal of the law’s 2.3 percent tax on medical devices. The House included repeal of the tax in one of the measures it passed, and the Senate earlier this year endorsed repeal by an overwhelming vote.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reiterated his stand Thursday: If you want repeal, open up the government first.
“We said we’ll negotiate on anything they want to talk about. That includes, as we indicated, anything – health care device tax. But the government has to be open,” Reid said.
Obama defended the health care rollout in his remarks, noting that more than 6 million people visited the website healthcare.gov the day it opened.
“Millions of Americans have made it clear they do want health insurance,” Obama said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said more Americans had visited the website than “visit southwestairlines.com in a month,” but he said the White House does not yet have statistics on the number of enrollees.
“We’re focused on improving the consumer experience and making sure that the American people have the information they need through healthcare.gov and through the toll-free number to begin to make assessments about what kind of insurance they’d like,” he said.
Some House Republicans have suggested they would be open to passing legislation that funds the government without touching the health care law, but there appeared to be no new talks between members of Congress and the White House to reach a resolution.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky chided Obama for visiting the construction company in Maryland “rather than sitting down to get this thing solved. It’s disappointing.”
He pinned the blame for the shutdown on Obama and congressional Democrats for refusing to revise the health care law, calling it a “pretty reasonable request.”
With little progress on a budget deal that would end the shutdown, the administration began ramping up its warnings about the dangers of default. The nation is expected to exhaust its borrowing authority by Oct. 17.
The Treasury Department released a six-page report Thursday warning that a default on the debt could be “catastrophic” and spark another recession.
“A default would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic: credit markets could freeze, the value of the dollar could plummet, U.S. interest rates could skyrocket, the negative spillovers could reverberate around the world, and there might be a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse,” the report said.
In Maryland, Obama said Republicans are hoping to get “extra concessions” out of him in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling, but he said he won’t negotiate.
“There will be no negotiations over this,” he said of the debt ceiling. “The American people are not pawns in some political game.”
The New York Times reported that Boehner has told his colleagues that he is determined to prevent a default and is willing to pass a measure through a combination of Republican and Democratic votes.
But Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said, “Boehner has always said that the United States will not default on its debt, but if we’re going to raise the debt limit, we need to deal with the drivers of our debt and deficits. That’s why we need a bill with cuts and reforms to get our economy moving again."
Anita Kumar of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.