Belfast Telegraph

Obama raises pressure on default

Barack Obama has stepped up pressure on the top House Republican to hold votes to reopen the federal government and prevent a potentially disastrous US government default.

The US president spoke to reporters at the White House a few hours after calling House speaker John Boehner and urging him to drop demands that the votes be tied to Republican demands for dismantling Mr Obama's health care law and cutting federal spending.

Republicans "don't get to demand ransom in exchange for doing their jobs", Mr Obama said. "They don't also get to say, 'you know, unless you give me what the voters rejected in the last election, I'm going to cause a recession'."

The US government has been partially shut for eight days because of Congress's failure to pass a normally routine temporary spending bill. Mr Obama also wants Congress to extend the government's borrowing authority, warning that if it fails to do so by October 17, the United States will not be able to pay its bills.

Mr Boehner said the president is demanding that Republicans surrender the budget and debt limit fight unconditionally, and he insisted that the two sides start negotiating now on the terms of any budget or debt agreement, saying attaching other measures is a long-held practice.

"What the president said today was if there's unconditional surrender by Republicans, he'll sit down and talk," he said. Mr Boehner called for "a conversation" about key issues, "not next week. Not next month. The conversation ought to start today".

Although nothing concrete has been offered, House Republicans did float broad hints that they might be willing to pass short-term legislation to reopen the government and avert the default in exchange for immediate talks with the Obama administration on reducing deficits and changing the three-year-old health care law.

At the White House a few hours later, Mr Obama said he was "absolutely willing" to hold talks on those terms.

"If reasonable Republicans want to talk about any of these things again, I'm ready to head up to the Hill and try," he said.

Asked if he was willing to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government for a short period, Mr Boehner sidestepped the issue. "I'm not going to get into a whole lot of speculation," he said.

Democrats in the Senate planned to unveil a measure expected to permit a trillion dollars or more in new borrowing above the current 16.7 trillion dollar debt ceiling that the administration says will be hit on October 17.

But Republicans have said they want changes to Mr Obama's signature health care law in exchange for reopening the government. They have said they want spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit.

The White House threatened to veto a House Republican proposal creating a special congressional committee that would have authority to recommend steps to raise the debt limit and reduce spending.

The White House Office of Management and Budget also said the White House opposes joining that legislation with a proposal to pay federal workers who have had to remain at their posts during the government shutdown.

Without congressional action, those workers would miss their next regularly scheduled pay day on October 15.

In the latest in a string of dire global warnings, the International Monetary Fund said failure to raise the16.7 trillion dollar borrowing limit later this month could lead to a government default that might disrupt worldwide financial markets, raise interest rates and push the US economy back into recession.

Treasury secretary Jacob Lew has said that on October 17, the government will exhaust its ability to borrow funds and will have to rely day-to-day on tax and other receipts to pay its bills.

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 US debt.

But Mr 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.

The shutdown began more than a week ago after Mr 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.