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Obama to seek opening with Republicans

10 October 2013, 14:43

Washington - President Barack Obama is hosting top House Republicans on Thursday to seek an opening in an impasse that has shut down much of the government and threatens a catastrophic federal default.

The White House meeting, set for Thursday, comes as House Republican leaders are contemplating advancing a short-term debt limit increase designed to calm financial markets and allow more time to resolve the partial government shutdown that entered its 10th day and facing a first-ever default between 17 October and the end of the month.

A short-term debt limit measure was expected to be a topic at a closed-door House Republican meeting on Thursday morning. It wasn't clear what conditions party leaders might seek to attach to the bill, if any, but conservatives consistently have been pushing top Republicans like Speaker John Boehner to add conditions beyond what Obama says he'll accept.

Also, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew was heading to Capitol Hill to both give and get a public scolding. Lew's appearance before the Senate Finance Committee promised to be yet another public restatement of the administration's stance that Congress needs to reopen the government and lift the US borrowing cap before Obama will negotiate over the nation's budget ills.

The debate over increasing the debt limit - required so Treasury can borrow more money to pay the government's bills in full and on time - already has resulted in stock market losses, spiked the interest rate for one-month Treasury bills and prompted Fidelity Investments, the nation's largest manager of money market mutual funds, to sell federal debt that comes due around the time the nation could hit its borrowing limit.

Wednesday featured lots of activity but no progress toward ending the budget and debt limit impasses.

Republicans shoulder blame

Obama had House Democrats over to the White House, while Republican conservatives heard a pitch from the House Budget Committee chairperson, Republican Representative Paul Ryan, on his plan to extend the US borrowing cap for four to six weeks.

At the same time he would jump-start talks on a broader budget deal that could replace cuts to defence and domestic agency budgets with cuts to benefit programmes like Medicare and reforms to the loophole-cluttered tax code. Curbs to the new health care reform law were not mentioned.

At the White House, Obama told House Democratic loyalists that he still would prefer a long-term increase in the nation's $16.7 trillion borrowing cap but that he's willing to sign a short-term increase to "give Boehner some time to deal with the tea party wing of his party," said Democratic Representative Peter Welch, referring to the conservative anti-tax group.

A midday meeting on Wednesday between the two top House Republicans and Democrats, meanwhile, yielded no progress. Rival aides to Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California even disagreed over who asked for the meeting. Aides said Pelosi had a long-ignored request for a meeting with Boehner that Boehner unexpectedly granted on short notice.

Obama invited the entire House Republican contingent to the White House on Thursday but Boehner opted to send a smaller squadron of about 20 mostly senior members, which prompted White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to issue an unusual statement criticising the move to exclude tea party Republicans from the session.

"The president thought it was important 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," Carney said.

The frustrating standoff in Washington is weighing on each side's poll numbers, but Republicans have been hurt the worst. A Gallup poll put the approval rating for the Republican Party at a record-low 28%. Polls have consistently said the Republicans deserve the greater share of blame for the shutdown.

- AP


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