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House GOP pitches plan on debt limit amid pressure from business community

October 10, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Republicans suggested a plan to increase the debt ceiling for the short-term if President Obama agrees to negotiate spending cuts as a way to end the shutdown. Congressional correspondent Kwame Holman reports on the latest warnings about the debt ceiling and Judy Woodruff gets an update from Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Our lead story tonight: For the first time since much of the federal government closed 10 days ago, there was talk of a way out.

House Republican leaders floated a proposal to stave off national default. Democrats pressed for a way to reopen the government as well.

We begin with a report from NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman.

KWAME HOLMAN: After a closed-door meeting, House Speaker John Boehner had a new offer: Republicans will OK a temporary increase in the debt ceiling if the president agrees to negotiate spending cuts as a way to end the shutdown.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: It’s time for leadership. It’s time for these negotiations and this conversation to begin. And I would hope that the president would look at this as an opportunity and a good faith effort on our part to move halfway, halfway to what he’s demanded, in order to have these conversations begin.

KWAME HOLMAN: Boehner didn’t mention earlier demands to defund or delay the health care law as the price of passing a continuing resolution to fund the government.

But Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador, a Tea Party Republican, suggested that issue is far from dead.

REP. RAUL LABRADOR, R-Idaho: We will give him a clean debt ceiling for six weeks so he can negotiate on the issues dealing with the debt. But when it comes to the continuing resolution, when it comes to the issues dealing with Obamacare, we’re going to continue to hold our ground.

KWAME HOLMAN: Up to now, the president had insisted he will negotiate only after House Republicans reopen the government and lift the debt ceiling. Today, spokesman Jay Carney called the Boehner offer an encouraging sign.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: If a clean debt limit bill is passed, he would likely sign it. Again, we would have to see it. We’re speaking of a bill that does not at this point exist. And it’s not at all clear based on what the speaker said that that’s what we’re going to see.

KWAME HOLMAN: The public exchange came ahead of a private meeting between the president and a group of House Republicans at the White House this afternoon. He met earlier with Senate Democrats, and Majority Leader Harry Reid came out saying there will be no negotiations until the shutdown ends.

As for the Republicans’ latest proposal:

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: Let’s wait see what the House does. When they send us something, we will look at it as clearly and as closely as we can. I hope the Republicans decide what they want, and we will be happy to work with them in any way. I repeat for the fourth time right here, open the government, let us pay our bills, we will negotiate with you about anything.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and his members will talk with the president tomorrow.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: That’s a good start, but only if it means he’s decided to drop his refusal to negotiate on solutions, because if this meeting — if this is just a meeting where he simply reiterates that he won’t negotiate, then it certainly won’t be very productive.

KWAME HOLMAN: The on-and-off talk of flexibility on both sides on raising the debt ceiling came amid fresh warnings from administration officials and financial leaders that action is imperative. They argued the country cannot run the risk of national default one week from today.

At a Senate hearing, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew rejected suggestions the government could pay some bills, but not others.

JACK LEW, U.S. Treasury Secretary: How can the United States choose whether to send Social Security checks to seniors or pay benefits to veterans? How can the United States choose whether to provide children with food assistance or meet our obligations to Medicare providers? The United States shouldn’t be put in a position of making such perilous choices for our economy and our citizens.

KWAME HOLMAN: Members of the financial community sounded similar alarms at another hearing. Former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating is head of the American Bankers Association.

FRANK KEATING, former Oklahoma governor: The harm is to likely to be measured in hundreds of billions of dollars. Even the slightest uptick in Treasury interest rates would cascade throughout the economy. It would raise the cost for taxpayers to service our country’s debt and would raise the borrowing cost for business.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, much of the government remained shuttered for a 10th day. But the Interior Department did announce it’s allowing states to reopen national parks using their own money.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We get the latest now from Margaret Talev. She is White House correspondent for Bloomberg News.

Margaret, good to have you back on the program.

Where does everything stand right now?

MARGARET TALEV, Bloomberg News: Wow.

The Republican leadership just left the White House, didn’t stop at the microphones and kept on going. All of us are trying to get even the most preliminary indications of how that meeting went and why they left without a statement.

What the White House is hoping to do to is sort of delineate, can we agree to set aside the whole negotiation shutdown issue and just clear this debt limit thing before we move on? Unclear what the Republicans’ play is at this point.

Senate Democrats made very clear that they have no intent of negotiating until the shutdown is resolved beyond the debt ceiling increase. The president has left a little more wiggle room in the way that he and his staff talk about it, saying they agree that in principle that that’s not the right way to do things, that it’s not right to hold Americans ransom, but not as clear a line in the land as Harry Reid at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you know, Margaret, what has caused the Republicans to change their position and say that they are willing to go along with a short-term extension of the debt ceiling increase?

MARGARET TALEV: There is tremendous pressure on Republicans from the business community and concern about how the markets are going to react tomorrow and Monday.

There is also a sort of sense strategically that amid lagging poll numbers and the sort of broader play for these concessions on health care and spending that they’re hoping for, that perhaps they’re showing some good faith on at least an extension, a short-term extension for now of the debt ceiling is the right way for them to move.

At least, that is the position of sort of a core of the Republicans in Congress. But by no means is there unanimity on this. There is some internal disagreement about whether this is the right way to proceed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And so is there a sense that the Republicans — the Republicans have been saying they need some sort of fig leaf, they need something from the administration. Is there a sense of what that could be?

MARGARET TALEV: What the White House’s position has been is that they’re not going negotiate on anything big that they care about.

Again, they have left a little wiggle room about whether they would negotiate on motherhood and apple pie and things that wouldn’t really cost them anything in terms of the president’s core policy initiatives. So there is even within this “we’re not going to negotiate” language some room for negotiation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the health care reform that the Republicans had been insisting had to be defunded, what happened to that demand?

MARGARET TALEV: Well, that wouldn’t be part of a clean six-week debt ceiling extension, as we understand it, although, again, as the White House spokesman Carney noted earlier today, until they actually see the language, they were sort of loathe to assume that they understood what it was.

Speaker Boehner did suggest that they would want to do that six-week extension as part of reopening negotiations. And the White House’s response was, we don’t want to negotiate until the shutdown is over. So a big part of what we think happened in this meeting today was a discussion about what sort of — what are the rules of the game between now and October 17, when everything turns into a pumpkin if there’s not resolution?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret Talev, Bloomberg News, thank you very much.

MARGARET TALEV: Thanks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will continue to watch it. And I know you will.

MARGARET TALEV: Absolutely.