By: JANET HOOK and PATRICK O’CONNOR
President Obama speaks on the government shutdown during a visit to a construction company in Rockville, Md., on Thursday.
WASHINGTON—Senior Republicans in Congress, frustrated over their inability to strike a deal to reopen the government, began shifting from their drive to undercut the 2010 health-care law, which has been the central element of the dispute, toward a broader budget deal.
The new focus comes as Congress is beginning to confront the need to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, which the Treasury said must be done this month in order to pay the nation’s obligations. With federal agencies largely shuttered for a third day, some GOP lawmakers were exploring whether the political stalemate over funding the government could best be resolved by crafting a broader fiscal package that would include an increase in the debt ceiling.
House Speaker John Boehner, (R., Ohio), on Thursday signaled he would follow that course. He told a group of his closest allies over lunch that he doesn’t want to broker a deal to fund federal agencies and reopen the government only to face an immediate negotiation over raising the debt ceiling, participants said. The speaker expressed optimism at the lunch that he might be able to combine the two issues to embark on broader budget negotiations with the White House and Senate Democrats.
Meanwhile, some House Democrats also sought to pressure their leaders to take additional steps to reopen the government. A group publicly endorsed repealing the health-care law’s tax on medical devices—a long-held Republican priority—as a way out of the budget battle. The idea was quickly rejected by Democratic leaders but signaled lawmakers’ growing frustration with the stalemate.
President Barack Obama has said that he won’t negotiate terms for raising the debt ceiling—that Congress must pass it with no conditions—but Republicans have said they won’t back an increase unless deficit-reduction measures or other GOP policy goals are included. That has raised concerns that lawmakers and the president wouldn’t come to an agreement in time to avoid dangerous financial and economic consequences.
Late Thursday, Mr. Obama canceled a planned trip to Asia because of the government shutdown, the White House said. The president had been scheduled to visit Indonesia and Brunei to participate in two regional summits. Earlier in the week he had called off stops in Malaysia and the Philippines.
In recent days, Mr. Boehner has been talking with Republican House members about raising the debt ceiling, insisting to them it must be done. By taking that stance, he has raised questions about how much leverage he could take into negotiations—should any materialize—with Democrats over the debt ceiling.
In a session with centrist Republicans, Mr. Boehner suggested that debt-ceiling legislation would likely have to have some support from Democrats, acknowledging that any such measure would be opposed by at least some conservative Republicans.
Some House Republicans were openly dismissive of suggestions that Mr. Boehner might turn to Democrats to pass legislation raising the ceiling without extracting demands from Senate Democrats and the White House.
“I don’t think there are 218 votes to raise the debt ceiling without some sort of effort to deal with the deficit,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.). “Who are these Republicans who are going to vote for the debt-ceiling increase with absolutely no effort to deal with the deficit?”
Louisiana GOP Rep. John Fleming, an outspoken conservative, was even more direct: “I don’t see any way he would get a debt ceiling passed in the House without some conditions.”
A Boehner spokesman, Michael Steel, said the speaker “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.”
Some GOP lawmakers openly pleaded for their party to get past the government-shutdown standoff and look to broader budget issues. “Let’s put this behind us and move on as a nation,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) on the Senate floor, shortly before the tension of the day was heightened by police action that led the Capitol to be locked down for more than a half hour. Authorities said a woman had tried to ram her car through barriers at the White House and near the Capitol before she was shot and killed.
The House GOP plans a closed-door meeting Friday morning to discuss strategy for budget and fiscal matters.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) has said he wants to include a “down payment” on reducing the deficit—including cost-cutting changes in Medicare—as part of a debt-limit increase. But Mr. Obama on Thursday repeated that he wouldn’t negotiate over raising the debt ceiling.
If the borrowing limit isn’t raised, “the whole world will have problems, which is why, generally, nobody’s ever thought to actually threaten not to pay our bills,” said Mr. Obama in an address at a construction company in Rockville, Md., on Thursday.
“I’m going to repeat it: There will be no negotiations over this,” he said. “The American people are not pawns in some political game.”
Mr. Boehner, in response, repeated his party’s demand that Democrats agree to changes in the health-care law, the Affordable Care Act. “We want to resolve this dispute as soon as possible, but that will require Washington Democrats to realize neither side gets everything it wants,” Mr. Boehner said.
Democrats highlighted a comment by one GOP lawmaker, suggesting it showed that Republicans were extending the impasse with no clear policy goal.
“We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R., Ind.) had told the Washington Examiner newspaper.
Mr. Obama mocked the comment on Thursday, saying, “What you get is our medical researchers back on the job” by resolving the budget stalemate. “What you get is little kids back into Head Start.”
Mr. Stutzman on Thursday stood down from his remark, saying he had “carelessly misrepresented” the budget debate.
Write to Janet Hook at email@example.com
A version of this article appeared October 4, 2013, on page A1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: GOP Begins Search for Broad Deal On Budget.
Unlike the summer 2011 debt-ceiling debacle, President Obama and his administration appear to be pushing for market unrest, with the hope that it will spur Republicans to end the current budget standoff. WSJ’s Sudeep Reddy reports. Photo: AP
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