WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama apologized to the American people Tuesday for the bitter fiscal impasse that’s shut down parts of the federal government, but he continued to blame Republicans for it.
“I know the American people are tired of it,” Obama said at a White House news conference. “I apologize that you have to go through this stuff every three months, it seems like. And Lord knows I’m tired of it.”
The president again urged Republicans in the House of Representatives to pass bills immediately to reopen the government and increase the nation’s borrowing limit, even while continuing to call them irresponsible hostage takers.
An hour later, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, scolded Obama for his remarks, saying the president must negotiate before they pass the bills.
Boehner said Congress and the White House had negotiated on government funding and the debt limit dozens of times over the years, resulting in “significant policy changes that would in fact reduce spending and put us on a saner fiscal path.”
“It’s time to have that conversation. Not next week, not next month. The conversation ought to start today,” Boehner said at the Capitol. “I’m hopeful, whether it’s the president or Democrat leaders here in the Congress, we can begin that conversation.”
Democrats and Republicans, meanwhile, remained far apart on how to fund the government and increase the borrowing limit, threatening to push the nation further back into financial crisis.
The Democratic-led Senate wants to pass proposals that reopen the government at current spending levels and raise the debt ceiling for a year. The Republican-controlled House wants a broader deal, including delaying the new health care law, large portions of which went into effect last week.
The House tried anew Tuesday to draw the Democrats into negotiations with a proposal to create a so-called super committee with House and Senate members to resolve the shutdown and debt ceiling issues.
“We are simply talking past each other, rather than talking to each other and rather than working with each other in the best interest of the American people,” said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Rules Committee.
House and Senate Democrats mocked the super committee proposal as a stunt, reminding Republicans that the last such group failed. That 12-member panel, formed to cut at least $1 trillion from looming federal deficits, disbanded in 2011 after failing to reach a bipartisan agreement.
“Not again. Not again. Oh, my gosh,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. “Having served as a member of this so-called super committee, there was nothing super about it. And it was just punting. It’s another way to get out of doing what you should.”
Obama also dismissed the proposal, saying again that he won’t negotiate until the House passes a bill to reopen the government and increase the debt ceiling. He’d reiterated that in a brief phone call to Boehner earlier in the day.
“We can’t make extortion routine as part of our democracy,” the president said in his news conference. “Democracy doesn’t function this way. And this is not just for me. It’s also for my successors in office, whatever party they’re from. They shouldn’t have to pay a ransom, either, for Congress doing its basic job. We gotta put a stop to it.”
Lawmakers have generally agreed on a temporary government-funding bill that would fund domestic and defense spending at an annualized rate of $986 billion. It continues spending at last year’s levels. Republicans wanted to spend less on domestic programs; Democrats generally wanted to spend more. The two sides aim to iron out their differences in a larger, more nuanced budget bill later this year.
“Let’s find a way out of this,” urged Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “I don’t care if it’s appointing people, the informal conversations we’ve been having back and forth. But there should be a way out of both these dead ends that we are in. How is this going to end?”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, however, urged House Republicans to stick to their guns.
“The House of Representatives is working constructively to fund vital priorities, and unfortunately President Obama, the (Senate) majority leader and Senate Democrats are refusing to negotiate, refusing to compromise,” Cruz said. “That’s not a reasonable approach.”
At his news conference, Obama said that a debt default would be far worse than a government shutdown, warning that it could disrupt markets, hurt retirement accounts and home values, and raise borrowing costs for mortgages and student loans.
“There would be a significant risk of a very deep recession at a time when we’re still climbing our way out of the worst recession in our lifetimes,” he said.
If Congress fails to act before Oct. 17, the U.S. government would start running short of money to pay all its debts and current bills.
With the government still shut down, Obama canceled his weeklong trip to Asia this week. Instead, he’s tried to use hastily planned events – a visit to a nearby sandwich shop, a brief talk at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and his news conference – to bolster his argument.
“It hurts our credibility around the world,” he said. “It makes it look like we don’t have our act together. That’s not something we should welcome.”
His remarks came after Japan and China – the United States’ biggest foreign creditors – said they remained worried that the stalemate might affect their trillions of dollars of investments in U.S. Treasury bonds.
“We ask that the United States earnestly takes steps to resolve in a timely way before 17 October the political (issues) around the debt ceiling and prevent a U.S. debt default to ensure safety of Chinese investments in the United States and the global economic recovery,” Zhu Guangyao, the Chinese vice finance minister, said in Beijing. “This is the United States’ responsibility.”
"The U.S. must avoid a situation where it cannot pay (for its debt) and its triple-A ranking plunges all of a sudden," said Taro Aso, Japan’s finance minister.
Lesley Clark contributed to this report.
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