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Shutdown negotiations finally begin

House Republicans offer compromises and meet with the president while facing poll numbers showing Democrats winning the blame game

Speaker John Boehner, surrounded by fellow House Republicans, talks to reporters at a news conference Thursday. Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

Shutdown negotiations finally begin

WASHINGTON—A White House meeting between President Barack Obama and House Republicans Thursday night ended with no deal on the government shutdown or the debt ceiling.

But a day that began with the GOP offering a concession and ended with both sides sitting across the table from one another had some predicting that the 10-day-old partial shutdown could be nearing its end.

“We’re negotiating,” Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said after the 90-minute White House meeting that included 20 Republican lawmakers who rode to the meeting from Capitol Hill on a bus. White House and congressional staffers continued to talk throughout the evening over how to fund the government and address the debt limit.

“Hopefully we’ll have a clearer way, path forward,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Earlier in the day, House Republicans made an offer to pass a six-week extension to the debt ceiling without reopening the government. It would be contingent on President Obama agreeing to open talks on how to reopen the government.

House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans would demand a formal conference meeting between House and Senate lawmakers to discuss the federal budget. He said House Republicans have attempted to get Democrats to talk for the past 10 days.

“It’s time for leadership,” the speaker continued. “It’s time for these negotiations and this conversation to begin. I would hope that the president would look at this as an opportunity and a good-faith effort on our part to move halfway to what he’s demanded in order to have these conversations begin.”

At the White House meeting, Obama did not agree to or reject the Republican offer. The White House called it “a good meeting” while Republicans released a statement saying it was “a constructive dialogue.”

That was more positive than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s reaction to the Republican plan to raise the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt limit until Nov. 22 as long as it triggers negotiations.

“Not going to happen,” Reid said, continuing the hard-line stance he has displayed throughout the shutdown saga.

But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney suggested the president “would likely sign” a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling.

The day ended with both sides chewing over a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday evening, showing that Democrats are winning the shutdown blame game. Americans blame Republicans for the shutdown by a 22-point margin over Obama. The 53 percent who blame Republicans as compared to the 31 percent who blamed Obama represents a wider gap than the GOP suffered in the 1995-96 shutdown.

In the new poll, Republicans scored their lowest marks in more than 20 years, with only 24 percent of respondents having a favorable opinion of the party. Even more alarming for conservatives, the poll showed that the percent of those who think Obamacare is a good idea increased from 31 percent to 38 percent.

“A poll moving a couple of points … its Washington silliness to make that into any trend that somehow people like Obamacare,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., on Friday of the survey that had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Huelskamp said he is still getting reports of insurance premiums going up and employees going from full time to part time due to Obamacare. He stressed it is important that Obamacare continues to be a significant part of the ongoing shutdown negotiations.

“The only thing that’s changed now is there are people, however few it is, who have signed up for Obamacare,” Huelskamp said. “Every day it goes forward there is a constituency being built up. That is why we have to have entitlement reform or stop them before they get started because once you get a bunch of folks on a government program, for some reason they don’t want to get off.”

Showing the growth of government dependence, the new poll found that 52 percent say the government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people. In 1995, just 32 percent looked to the government to solve problems and help people.

Not long after the poll was released Thursday, some Republicans tried to shore up their party's reputation on cable news programs. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., went on CNBC and said House leaders hope to have the government reopened as soon as Monday night. But Rep. Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican and chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said he wouldn’t back any funding efforts to open the government without “an actual dialogue” occurring about the nation’s fiscal problems.

“There are some big differences that we have on how we get our country back on track, how we control spending, and get the economy moving,” said Scalise, also appearing on CNBC.

Earlier Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican and one of the key architects behind the strategy to tie the government’s budget to stopping Obamacare, gave his blessing to the House’s strategy to approve a temporary extension of the government’s borrowing authority.

“My understanding is this is being driven by House conservatives who are quite reasonably saying, ‘Listen, let’s focus on Obamacare, on winning the fight on Obamacare,” said Cruz in a radio interview on KFYO in Lubbock, Texas, “and let’s push the debt ceiling a little further down the road so that it doesn’t distract us from the fight we are in the middle of right now.”

While the House pushed its compromise, Reid offered legislation to raise the debt limit by $1.1 trillion—high enough to push the next debt ceiling standoff until after the 2014 elections. With the debt now close to $17 trillion—nearly double what it was in 2007—Senate Republicans balked at Reid’s no-strings-attached bill.

“That’s the majority leader’s plan: just keep raising the credit card limit, and let someone else deal with it later on,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. “The American people can be persuaded to raise the debt ceiling, but they’re not in any mood to simply hand over a blank check. They’re looking for sensible reforms, too.”

Meanwhile, Obama on Thursday night signed into law a bill to restore funding for the $100,000 payments given to families of deceased soldiers. After the Pentagon denied the benefit to families, citing the government shutdown, the bill passed with overwhelming support in both the House and Senate. Twenty-nine service members have died on active duty since the shutdown began.

“They should have never been put through this indignity,” Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., tweeted after the vote.

Edward Lee Pitts

Lee is the executive director of the World Journalism Institute and former Washington, D.C. bureau chief for WORLD Magazine. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and teaches journalism at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa.

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