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After White House Meeting, Both Sides Agree To Keep Talking

Oct 10, 2013
Originally published on October 10, 2013 7:48 pm
This post was last updated at 7:19 p.m. ET.

After an hour-long meeting with President Obama, Republicans said they have agreed to keep talking, in hopes of bridging a gulf that has already led to a government shutdown and is threatening the first default in U.S. history.

House Speaker John Boehner and 19 other Republicans came to the White House meeting with an offer to pass a temporary extension of the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling in exchange for substantive negotiations with Democrats on other fiscal matters. But their proposal did not reopen the government, which the Democrats have insisted on.

Speaking in the House after his meeting with Obama, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, said the meeting was "very productive" and that negotiations would continue through the night.

NPR's Tamara Keith summed it up this way on Twitter:

"White House and House GOP appear to have agreed to negotiate about negotiating. Teams meeting tonight."

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said: "We had a long, frank conversation about it and we agreed to continue talking and continue negotiating. So [Obama] didn't say no; he didn't say yes."

Earlier today, after his own meeting with Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, seemed to throw some cold water on the offer, saying Democrats will not sit down to negotiate with the GOP, until they extend the debt ceiling — even if for a short period — and agree to re-open the government.

When asked if Obama wanted the government open before he would agree to anything, Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican from Kentucky who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said Obama had not put it "quite that hard."

"We had a good, frank discussion, clarifying issues on both sides. We agreed to try to find the conditions for a [continuing resolution] in order to end the shutdown," Rogers added.

Tamara tells us that in the Capitol, tonight, there is "a sense of urgency that we've not seen before."

The GOP plan calls for a six-week extension of the debt ceiling that, if implemented, would remove the immediate threat to financial markets. But the deal has nothing to do with a temporary spending measure, known as a continuing resolution, that would restart the federal government, which has been partially shut down since last week.

Tamara says the proposal for a short-term deal on the debt ceiling is only because "House Republicans want to continue to have urgency in the discussions."

"They don't want this to drag on for six weeks and then have to have another extension," she says. "They really want, they say, to get to some sort of a deal — some sort of a grand bargain, not-so-grand bargain, something that deals with more than just the budget."

The proposal followed a morning gathering of the House Republican caucus and came just ahead of a meeting between key House GOP lawmakers and President Obama at the White House.

The White House and Democrats had wanted a "clean" resolution to restore funding to government operations and raise the debt ceiling, but a substantial bloc of conservative Republicans in the House have insisted that such a temporary spending measure be tied to defunding and/or delaying the Affordable Care Act.

The deal outlined by Republicans is similar to one detailed on Wednesday by Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, in an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal. In it, Ryan calls for talks with the president and congressional Democrats on Social Security and Medicare reform, and simplifying the tax code.

Asked what it would take for Republicans to end the government shutdown, Boehner said, "That's why we're going to talk to the president."

He added: "I don't want to put anything on the table or take anything off the table."

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California told CNN shortly before the announcement that "a short-term deal may just land us right back to where we are two months from now."

"If push comes to shove and it's either default or a short-term deal, it's very difficult to choose default," Schiff said.

In testimony earlier Thursday before the Senate Finance Committee, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned of catastrophic consequences if the debt ceiling isn't raised before Oct. 17 and the U.S. is unable to pay its bills on time.

Update at 6:59 p.m. ET. Didn't Say No, Didn't Say Yes:

Rep. Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, said that they put a proposal in front of Obama but it sounded like they came out of the meeting and landed in essentially the same spot.

"We had a long, frank conversation about it and we agreed to continue talking and continue negotiating. So [Obama] didn't say no; he didn't say yes."

Update at 6:54 p.m. ET. Negotiate About Negotiating:

So just what came out of a meeting between Obama and Republican leaders? NPR's Tamara Keith summed it up this way on Twitter:

"White House and House GOP appear to have agreed to negotiate about negotiating. Teams meeting tonight."

Update at 6:18 p.m. ET. Republican Lawmakers Leave White House:

Without making any statement, Republican lawmakers, including Speaker Boehner, filed out of the White House, according to Reuters, the AP and CNN.

What that means is unclear.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, of Virginia, told the AP that the meeting with Obama was useful and "we expect further conversations tonight."

It's also unclear whether those conversations involve the White House or just his caucus.

Update at 3:51 p.m. ET. 'Not Gonna Happen':

While today's proposal was said to be "encouraging" by the White House, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid emerged from his meeting with Obama, the mood seemed starkly different.

He was asked by a reporter if Democrats would sit down with Republicans, while the government was still shut down.

"Not gonna happen," Reid said, bluntly.

In other words, Democrats are sticking to their bottom line: that they will not negotiate with Republicans until Republicans agree to raise the debt ceiling — even if for a short time — and agree to pass a clean continuing resolution that opens up the government without any language on the Affordable Care Act.

Update At 1:05 p.m. ET. White House Calls Proposal 'An Encouraging Sign'

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that the president was "happy" that Republicans had offered something but "we don't know" what Boehner can get passed.

"Cooler heads seem to be prevailing," he said.

"It would be far better if we stop playing this periodic brinksmanship," Carney said.

"It's an encouraging sign ... that they're not listening to the default deniers," he said.

"We'll see what they are able to pass," Carney said.

He said trying to tie government funding and raising the debt ceiling to the repeal of Obamacare was "a fool's errand, and the people who are paying are hard-working Americans."

Asked whether the president would reject any agreement that did not reopen the government, Carney was evasive.

"You're asking me hypotheticals," he said.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.