WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is inviting Republican lawmakers to the White House in the coming days as pressure builds on both sides to resolve their deadlock over the federal debt limit and the partial government shutdown.
With the shutdown in its ninth day Wednesday and a potential economy-shaking federal default edging ever closer, a new poll indicated Republicans could pay a political price for Washington’s fiscal paralysis.
But amid the tough talk, Obama invited all 232 House Republican lawmakers to come to the executive mansion on Thursday. Republicans said only 18 would attend, including their leaders and some committee chairmen.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama was disappointed that House Speaker John Boehner was “preventing his members from coming to the White House.” Carney, pinning blame for the shutdown on House Republicans, said the president wanted to talk directly with “the members who forced this economic crisis on the country about how the shutdown and a failure to pay the country’s bills could devastate the economy.”
It’s not just Republicans taking a hit in a new AP-GfK Poll, which showed that approval ratings for Obama and Democrats were also plummeting as the partial shutdown reached its ninth day and next week’s deadline approached for increasing the U.S. debt limit.
The U.S. government has been partially shut since Oct. 1 because of Congress’ failure to pass a normally routine temporary spending bill. Obama also wants Congress to extend the government’s borrowing authority — another once-routine matter — warning that if it fails to do so by Oct. 17, the United States will not be able to pay its bills.
Republicans were demanding talks on deficit reduction and Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul law as the price for boosting the government’s borrowing authority and returning civil servants to work. Democrats want Congress to first end the shutdown and extend the debt limit.
“Speaker Boehner could end this government shutdown today, an hour from now” by letting the House of Representatives vote to do so, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday.
Amid the tough talk, though, were indications that both sides might be open to a short-term extension of the borrowing limit and a temporary end to the shutdown, giving them more time to resolve their disputes.
Obama used a White House news conference Tuesday to say he “absolutely” would negotiate with Republicans on “every item in the budget” if Congress first sent him short-term measures halting the shutdown and the extending the debt limit.
Boehner, speaking to reporters Tuesday, sidestepped a question about whether he’d raise the debt limit and fund government for short periods by saying, “I’m not going to get into a whole lot of speculation.”
Obama was to huddle with House Democrats Wednesday afternoon as both parties look for a way forward. The White House said that the president intends to invite Republicans and senators in the coming days.
Boehner’s Republicans may end up taking the biggest hit in public opinion for Washington’s gridlock, just as that party did when much of the government closed 17 years ago during President Bill Clinton’s administration, according to the Associated Press-GfK survey, released Wednesday.
Overall, 62 percent mainly blamed Republicans for the shutdown. About half said Obama or the Democrats in Congress bear much responsibility.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 3-7 and involved online interviews with 1,227 adults. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.
Obama’s approval rating fell to 37 percent. Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader and Boehner, both had a favorability rating of just 18 percent.
The financial world is flashing unmistakable signs that it fears Washington’s twin battles could hurt the economy.
On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund’s financial counselor, Jose Vinals, said a failure by Congress to raise the federal debt ceiling and a subsequent U.S. default would cause “a worldwide shock.”
Also, the National Retail Federation became the latest business group to urge lawmakers to quickly end their standoff. In a letter to congressional leaders, federation President Matthew Shay wrote Congress must “reverse the economic crisis it has created through the shutdown while it is still a short-term crisis and not the beginning of another recession.”
The Obama administration has said that unless Congress acts, it expects to have an estimated $30 billion in cash left by Oct. 17. That is pocket change for a government that can spend tens of billions more than that on busy days and $3.6 trillion a year.
Hitting that date without congressional action would risk an unprecedented federal default that would wound the economy and deal lasting harm to the government’s ability to borrow money, many economists warn.
Some Republicans have downplayed the significance of the deadline, saying that even then, the United States would be able to pay China and other holders of U.S. debt.
But Obama said they were badly misguided, warning that default would harm the economy, cause retirement accounts to shrivel and houses to lose value.
Other Republicans have made it clear in recent days they agree with the threat posed by default and are determined to prevent it.
On Tuesday, Senate Democrats introduced legislation that would avoid those scenarios by letting the government borrow money through Dec. 31, 2014. It contained no spending cuts or other deficit-cutting steps many Republicans seek.
The bill’s fate was uncertain, since the 54 votes Democrats can usually muster are short of the 60 votes they would need to overcome procedural maneuvers aimed at derailing the bill. An initial test vote seemed likely by Saturday.
Tuesday’s economic tremors did little to alter each side’s demands.
Republicans were continuing their tactic of pushing narrowly targeted bills through the House — over Democratic objections — that would restart popular parts of the government.
On Wednesday, they planned votes on a measure financing death benefits to families of fallen U.S. troops. Blaming the shutdown, the Pentagon has halted the $100,000 payments, usually made within three days of a death, a stoppage Boehner called “disgraceful.”
The shutdown began more than a week ago after Obama and Senate Democrats rejected Republican demands to defund “Obamacare,” then to delay it, and finally to force a one-year delay in the requirement for individuals to purchase health care coverage or face a financial penalty.
It was not a course Boehner and the leadership had recommended — preferring a less confrontational approach and hoping to defer a showdown for the debt limit. Their hand was forced by a strategy advanced by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and conservative tea party-aligned House members determined to eradicate the health care law before it fully took root.
AP Special Correspondent David Espo contributed to this report.
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