With the government shutdown entering its second week, President Barack Obama held an unplanned press conference on the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis on Tuesday afternoon, Oct. 8, 2013 in the White House Press Briefing Room, where he reiterated his position that he will not negotiate with the Republican controlled House of Representatives to ensure the passage of bills to resolve either crisis, until Congress passes clean bills reopening the government and raising the debt limit.
The government has been partially shutdown since the new fiscal year began on Oct. 1. There has been little progress to end the first government shutdown in 17 years with both the Democrats and Republicans spending most their time blaming each other. The debt ceiling will also reach its limit on Oct. 17, without passing a bill to raise the debt ceiling limit the U.S. will default on its loans.
At the core of the conflict is the Democratic Senate and President Obama wanting a "clean bill," a stop-gap spending bill referred to as a Continuing Resolution (CR) without out any provisions attached.
While the Republican controlled House of Representatives has been insisting on some provisions to delay aspects of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, the new healthcare law which started to formally be implemented with the health insurance marketplace being opened to individuals and families to start enrolling on Oct. 1, 2013.
The President is also insisting on a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling limit, although he is now open to s short term debt raise as long as there no strings attached. However, the Republicans want to add spending cuts provisions to the measure, something the President vowed to veto, and would surely not pass the Democratic Senate.
Approximately 800,000 federal employees are furloughed as a result of the shutdown out of 2 million, and will also affect all aspects of the government at a time when the fragile economy is just starting to recover.
With the President's schedule originally mostly clear of any events, he then decided on Tuesday morning to hold a press conference on the two crises and used the opportunity to pressure the House Republicans to end the eight-day old shutdown, and raise the debt ceiling limit before its deadline. The press conference was held in the White House Press Briefing Room at 2 p.m. and lasted an hour.
President Obama is remaining firm on his refusal to negotiate at all with the Republicans on either issue, even though that is the GOP's central demand from the President and Senate Democrats. He wants the Republicans to pass both measures as clean bills and then he would be willing to sit down to negotiations for long term solutions.
The President's rhetoric and message was essentially the same as most of the speeches and public comments he has made on the topic in the last three weeks; the Republicans are entirely to blame for two economic crises and that he his beyond reproach, completely blameless in the entire situation.
Obama's approach was slightly different this time, instead of just spending his entire remarks playing the blame game, he interspersed comments that make it appear that he is in fact a conciliator ready to compromise with the Republicans, but they are unwilling ones, claiming the opposite of the GOP's message. The USA Today called the approach akin to the President "casting himself as the adult in the room." The President used this device especially in regards to negotiating with the Republicans, saying; "I will not eliminate any topic of conversation, and I've shown myself willing to engage all the parties involved, any leader on the issue."
Obama began his press conference remarks explaining how conciliatory he would be for further negotiations once there would be clean bills passed ending the immediate crisis, stating; "I'm ready to head up to the Hill and try. I'll even spring for dinner again. But we can't do it if the entire basis of the Republican strategy is, we're going to shut down the government or cause economic chaos if we don't get a hundred percent of what we want."
Repeating his message that he would not negotiate, using dramatic language to make a strong point, the President stated; "I have shown myself willing to go more than halfway. We can't make extortion a routine part of our democracy," Obama also repeated one of his favorite phrases that that GOP's requests are "ransom." The President reiterated; "The only thing I will say is that we're not going to pay a ransom for America paying its bills. That's something that should be non-negotiable."
Repeating another familiar message, the President blamed the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party, rather than alienate the party as whole, stating; "The greatest nation on Earth shouldn't have to get permission from a few irresponsible members of Congress every few months just to keep our government open."
The President also belittled the eight partial spending bills that the House has put forward in order to fund some additional agencies and services that are deemed essential, aimed at alleviating some of the repercussions of the shutdown. The President made it seem as complete public relations ploy, stating; "What you've seen are bills that come up wherever Republicans are feeling political pressure, they put a bill forward. If there's no political heat or television story on it, then nothing happens."
Concluding President Obama urged a vote to end the shutdown, ordering Congress; "Let's stop the excuses. Let's take a vote in the House. Let's end this shutdown right now…. Let's lift these threats. Let's get down to work." According to news sources there are varying reports if there are indeed enough moderate Republican defectors to pass a clean spending bill, ABC News believes there are 17 Republicans willing to pass the measure giving it the majority needed, while CBS News claims there are still not votes to pass a clean bill with only 14 Republicans willing to vote against party lines.
The President also decided on Tuesday morning to call Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH also in an attempt to force his hand on the two issues after the Speaker held an early morning press conference expressing that he wanted to speak to the President. Boehner's spokesman Brendan Buck after summarized the contents of the call, stating; "The president called the speaker again today to reiterate that he won't negotiate on a government funding bill or debt-limit increase."
The official read-out from the White House about the call that began at 10:45 a.m., stated; "The president is willing to negotiate with Republicans -- after the threat of government shutdown and default have been removed -- over policies that Republicans think would strengthen the country… The president urged the speaker to hold a vote in the House of Representatives on the Senate-passed measure that would re-open the federal government immediately."
Speaker Boehner responded to Obama's press conference comments and discussed his morning call with the President. Boehner told reporters at press conference that he is "disappointed that the president refuses to negotiate." The Speaker is against President Obama's approach with the Republicans that he will only negotiate with them after they give up all demands, concessions and provisions and pass clean spending bills and raise the debt ceiling limit.
The Speaker using the war rhetoric used in major American wars thinks that is tantamount to asking GOP for "unconditional surrender." Boehner elaborated; "At times like this the American people expect their leaders to sit down and have a conversation. I want that conversation to occur now. What the president said today was, if there is unconditional surrender by Republicans, he'll sit down and talk to us. That's not the way our government works."
The Speaker said his intentions were not to "come here to shut down the government; I certainly didn't come here to default on our debt." He also said the negotiations are necessary, because there needs to be spending cuts in order to raise the debt ceiling, because "We can't raise the debt ceiling without doing something about what's driving us to borrow more money and to live beyond our means."
Continuing the Speaker emphasized that with the 40 times the debt ceiling limit was raised in 27 times the President has negotiated spending cuts with Congress to reign in the spending that led to the debt ceiling needing to be raised in the first place. Boehner recounted that "over the last 40 years, 27 times, the debt limit has been used to carry significant policy changes that would in fact reduce spending and put us on a saner fiscal path."
Boehner concluded that it that is it necessary and important to start negotiations as soon as possible, and does not care if he negotiates with the President or just Senate Democrats, saying; "It's time to have that conversation, not next week, not next month, the conversation ought to start today. I'm hopeful that whether it's the president or Democrat leaders here in the Congress, we can begin that conversation."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D- NV also responded to the situation calling all senators for a live quorum on Tuesday where he stated from the Senate floor; "This government shutdown is an embarrassment to this nation, not only to the people of America but around the world. It's time for us members of this august body to stand before the American people and publicly discuss the path forward."
The House plans to vote on two bills; H.J. Res. 89, the Federal Worker Pay Fairness Act to pay essential government employees and H.R. 3273, the Deficit Reduction and Economic Growth Working Group Act of 2013 to create a bipartisan committee to negotiate spending cuts and other "fiscal issues."
While in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Reid is working towards filing a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling to $16.7 trillion, with the prospect of a first test vote coming on Friday and after Republican objections, a vote on the Senate floor would only happen on Oct. 15 just two days before the deadline.
There have been a total of 17 prior government shutdowns in American history between the 1970s and 1990s with the December-January, 1995-1996 shutdown being the longest clocking in at 21 days. Then as now a Democratic President Bill Clinton was in a fierce ideological battle with a Republican House of Representatives.
Although the Republican's handling of the situation is unpopular, the President and Democrats all or nothing approach followed by a promise to negotiate with GOP after the Democrats get everything they want their way, is tantamount to form of governing blackmail. The President is a master as campaigning and public relations, and this time he hoping he can blame the entire crisis on the Republicans without having to tarnish his own legacy in the long run, and ensure the Democrats regain the House in next year's midterm elections.
The President's strategy is working, American are believing his blame game, partially because his comments reach the average American more through the press than anything the Republican leadership says. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll states that 70 percent of Americans blame Republicans in Congress, up from 63 percent last week, however, the President is not going completely blame free, his current disapproval rating sits at 51 percent, up only one from last week, with Democrats in Congress receiving a 61 percent disapproval rating, up from 55 percent last week. The current crisis is not just the Republican's fault no matter how much the President tries to spin it.
FULL TRANSCRIPT: President Barack Obama's Oct. 8 news conference on the shutdown and debt limit, Washington Post, Oct. 8, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.