Boehner: Not Enough Votes for ‘Clean’ Bill to Open Government

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US Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks to the media after a meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, DC, October 2, 2013, on the second day of the government shutdown. 
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
Oct. 6, 2013, 10 a.m.

House Speak­er John Boehner in­sisted Sunday there are not enough votes in the House to pass “clean” bills to re­start gov­ern­ment fund­ing and end the shut­down, or to pro­tect the na­tion’s abil­ity to con­tin­ue bor­row­ing money, without Demo­crat­ic con­ces­sions to Re­pub­lic­an policy de­mands.

But Treas­ury Sec­ret­ary Jac­ob Lew on Sunday blamed the shut­down on “the tac­tics of an ex­treme group” of House Re­pub­lic­ans who have been de­mand­ing the de­fund­ing, delay­ing, or dis­mant­ling of Obama­care. And he says the ad­min­is­tra­tion simply won’t back down.

“The pres­id­ent’s mes­sage is clear: Con­gress needs to do its job. They need to open the gov­ern­ment, they need to make it so we can pay our bills, and then we need to ne­go­ti­ate, and he is very much pre­pared to do that,” said Lew, ap­pear­ing on CNN’s State of the Uni­on.

Both men pressed their cases on Sunday morn­ing’s news shows, un­der­scor­ing a wide gulf that con­tin­ues to ex­ist, at least pub­licly, between both sides as the gov­ern­ment shut­down hits its sev­enth day on Monday. And Boehner, ap­pear­ing on ABC’s This Week, dis­missed any hope­ful no­tion that quiet, back-chan­nel ne­go­ti­ations may be un­der way.

“There may be a back­room some­where, but nobody’s in it,” Boehner said.

However, Boehner did note that Obama has can­celed a sched­uled trip this week to Asia, and the Ohio Re­pub­lic­an said, “I’m ready for the phone call. I’m ready for the con­ver­sa­tion.”

Mean­while, the loom­ing debt-ceil­ing fight is com­ing in­to sharp­er fo­cus. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­jec­ted the cur­rent $16.7 tril­lion cap will be hit on about Oct. 17, and Lew has told Con­gress the re­per­cus­sions range from harm to the na­tion’s cred­it­wor­thi­ness and stand­ing to skyrock­et­ing in­terest rates — even caus­ing the U.S. dol­lar to plum­met.

Asked dur­ing This Week about pre­vi­ous prom­ises that he will not per­mit the U.S. to de­fault, Boehner said, “My goal is not to have the U.S. de­fault on its debt.”

But Boehner also warned “it is the path we’re on” if Obama and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crat­ic lead­ers’ con­tin­ue to re­fuse to ne­go­ti­ate and in­sist on what the speak­er de­scribed as “com­plete sur­render” from Re­pub­lic­ans.

He also re­af­firmed that he and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans will press for spend­ing cuts in re­turn for in­creas­ing the na­tion’s abil­ity to bor­row, but that they also see the debt-ceil­ing fight as an arena for a con­ver­sa­tion about how to ad­dress the main drivers of U.S. debt, such as So­cial Se­cur­ity, Medi­care, and oth­er en­ti­tle­ments. “It is time for us to deal with our un­der­ly­ing spend­ing prob­lems,” he said.

But Lew said on CNN that Con­gress is “play­ing with fire” if it risks fail­ing to raise the na­tion’s debt ceil­ing.

“You can’t pay all the bills if Con­gress doesn’t raise the debt ceil­ing. And none of these bills are new. These are com­mit­ments that Con­gress made — it’s pay­ing old bills,” he said. “It would be like someone ran up their cred­it card and de­cided not to pay it.”

“You can’t do that,” Lew ad­ded, say­ing, “the United States gov­ern­ment is just too im­port­ant to the world. Our cur­rency is the world’s re­serve cur­rency.”

Lew did add, “I know john Boehner doesn’t want to de­fault. He also didn’t want to shut the gov­ern­ment down.” And he said the pres­id­ent does not want that to hap­pen, either. “The pres­id­ent has been, is and will al­ways be look­ing for that way to ne­go­ti­ate to find the sens­ible middle ground,” he said.

But he ad­ded of hard-liners in the House Re­pub­lic­an con­fer­ence: “They ended up with a gov­ern­ment shut­down be­cause of the tac­tics of an ex­treme group try­ing to say we’re will­ing to do real dam­age if we don’t get our way.

Still, Boehner said the con­fer­ence is united.

And on the fight over gov­ern­ment fund­ing that led to the shut­down Oct. 1 — the start of the new fisc­al year — Boehner in­dic­ated no in­clin­a­tion to put a “clean” bill on the floor.

Con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats, and a few Re­pub­lic­ans, claim that if Boehner was will­ing to do that, go­ing against the wishes of the hard-liners and oth­ers in his con­fer­ence, that the bill would pass. They say that, along with few Re­pub­lic­an mod­er­ates, most of the 200 Demo­crats among the total 432 House mem­bers would join in back­ing it.

But Boehner flatly said Sunday on ABC, “There are not the votes in the House to pass a clean CR.” He did not spe­cify if, by that, he meant not enough Re­pub­lic­an votes, or votes in the en­tire House, in­clud­ing both parties.

Mi­chael Czin, a spokes­man for the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee, re­spon­ded in a state­ment, “In­stead of ac­know­ledging that there are votes in the House to pass a clean con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to open the gov­ern­ment — something that every­one ad­mits but him — Speak­er Boehner would rather keep the gov­ern­ment shut to ex­tract de­mands.”

Boehner dis­missed in­sinu­ations that he is be­ing forced by the far Right in his con­fer­ence in­to a stand-off he did not want. At one point, he ad­mit­ted there had been con­ver­sa­tions with Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­ers about put­ting a clean CR on the floor, not dir­ectly at­tached to lan­guage tar­get­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act.

“I thought the fight would be over the debt ceil­ing,” said Boehner, but he ad­ded that in “talk­ing with my mem­bers, they said, let’s do it now.”

When might the stale­mate end?

“If I knew — I’d tell you,” Boehner said.

Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., one of the con­ser­vat­ives most in­stru­ment­al in the tak­ing up Sen. Ted Cruz’s call for Obama­care con­ces­sions as part of any bill to re­start gov­ern­ment spend­ing, said dur­ing his own ap­pear­ance on Fox News Sunday that House Re­pub­lic­ans re­main united.

And he dis­missed the no­tion that he and oth­er House con­ser­vat­ives would seek to strip Boehner of his speak­er­ship if he did not ad­here to their hard line in ne­go­ti­ations.

“Nobody could do a bet­ter job than he could,” Graves said.

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