WASHINGTON – House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday defiantly rejected calls to reopen the government and raise the federal debt limit, warning that the nation is headed for a first-ever default unless President Barack Obama starts negotiating with Republicans.
Thats the path were on, Boehner, R-Ohio, said on ABCs This Week. Of Obama, he added: He knows what my phone number is. All he has to do is call.
Sitting for his first television interview since congressional gridlock shut down most federal agencies nearly a week ago, Boehner sought to dispel the perception that he has been cornered by right-wing rebels and is desperately looking for a way out. In recent days, rank-and-file Republicans have said Boehner has told them he will not let the nation default on its obligations, even if that means raising the nations borrowing limit primarily with Democratic votes.
On Sunday, Boehner said he has no intention of collapsing in unconditional surrender.
We are not going to pass a clean debt-limit increase – one without additional concessions from Democrats – he said.
I told the president, theres no way were going to pass one. The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit, Boehner said. And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us.
As Boehner hardened his stance, the White House did the same, dispatching Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to appear on four of the six major Sunday talk shows.
Repeatedly, Lew said Obama is willing to enter negotiations to address the nations long-term budget problems but not until Republicans drop their campaign against Obamas health-care initiative, end the government shutdown and lift the $16.7 trillion debt limit.
We just spent the last several months with Congress creating this ridiculous choice where either you repeal the Affordable Care Act or you shut down the government or default on the United States. That is not the way we should do business, Lew said on Fox News Sunday.
Republicans need to open the government. They need to fund our ability to pay our bills, Lew said. And then were open to negotiation.
The standoff leaves a shuttered Washington hurtling toward a potentially devastating deadline on Oct. 17, when Lew has said he will exhaust available measures to conserve cash and begin relying entirely on incoming revenue.
Lew ducked questions Sunday about whether that means the nation would immediately default. He said that he cannot predict when he will run short of cash to make required payments and warned that lawmakers are playing with fire if they do not act fast to grant him additional authority to borrow.
Meantime, all but five House Democrats have signed a letter urging Boehner to allow a vote on a clean continuing resolution to extend federal spending, meaning the legislation appears to have the support of a majority of House members.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., released the letter, which bears the signatures of 195 of the chambers 200 Democrats.
Combine those 195 Democrats with the 22 House Republicans who have signaled support for a clean resolution, and you get 217 members, which is a bare majority of the chambers 432 members.
The Senate already has passed the bill.
There are not the votes in the House to pass a clean CR, Boehner said on This Week.