WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Sunday vowed anew to reject any fiscal negotiations with congressional Republicans that include the federal debt ceiling, setting up a showdown over the debt limit that the U.S. government is expected to reach in a month.
In a 30-minute interview with ABC’s “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos, Obama outlined several topics he said he would discuss with Republicans, including the federal budget, the forced budget cuts known as sequestration, tax initiatives, entitlements and even modifications to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called “Obamacare.”
“What I haven’t been willing to negotiate on, and what I will not negotiate on, is the debt ceiling,” Obama said.
Pressed on whether he is reversing himself after negotiating on the issue in the past, Obama said he has never done so.
“What’s never happened in the past is the notion that in exchange for fulfilling the full faith and credit of the United States, we are wiping away major legislation like the health care bill. We’ve never had a situation in which a party said, ‘Unless we get our way 100 percent, then we’re going to let the United States default,’ ” Obama said.
“The problem we have is a faction of the Republican Party, particularly in the House of Representatives, views ‘compromise’ as a dirty word, and anything that is even remotely associated with me, they’re going to oppose. My argument to them is real simple: ‘That’s not why the people sent you here.’ ”
Call it the shutdown showdown. When the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, so too does funding for federal government programs and services. Roughly two weeks later, the federal government will once again bump up against its debt ceiling, forcing Congress into a vote to raise it. However, a small but determined group of Republicans in the House and Senate are threatening to withhold funding for the government — or deny a debt ceiling increase — unless the health care law is defunded or somehow dismantled.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed Congress in late 2009 without a single Republican vote — and has been a favorite target of the GOP ever since. The House has held some 40 different votes to repeal it, and in the Senate similar efforts have reached into the dozens. The top Republican on the Senate Health Committee, Lamar Alexander, issued a statement last week that proudly noted he has voted to oppose or repeal the law more than 90 times.
For his part, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued his own vow last week affirming that House Republicans will tie the October debt ceiling vote to the dismantling of the health care law. Boehner said he has delivered that message personally to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
“You can’t talk about increasing the debt limit unless you’re willing to make changes and reforms that begin to solve the spending problem that Washington has,” Boehner said.
Another deadline is also looming — on Jan. 1, the law’s so-called “individual mandate” takes effect, which requires Americans to obtain health insurance if they don’t have it already. Citing that requirement, Republicans in both the House and Senate are pushing legislation to at least delay the law for another year.
Democrats are incensed at the continuing Republican efforts to repeal the law.
“There was a poll taken in November 2012. The president of the United States won that poll, but your myopic focus on this one issue threatens to shut down the government and risk the credit worthiness of the United States of America,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said last week in a heated floor speech directed at Republicans.
In the Senate, Democratic leaders blamed the influence of the Tea Party on Republicans in both chambers.
“This is an extreme, hard-right group, and they’ve picked this moment. They’re very blunt about it,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “They’re telling cancer patients, highway construction workers and middle-class families wanting to buy a home that they’re not going to get any help. Many people are against Obamacare, but only a very few say that everything else should be brought to a halt.”
Not all Republicans agree with the strategy of tying government funding or the debt ceiling to Obamacare. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, for one has introduced a measure to prevent a government shutdown by continuing current funding levels for the government until December 15. Rogers said the idea is to buy time for negotiations, calling it “a temporary measure to keep the lights on in government until this Congress can fulfill its duty.”
Like many, Rogers said such a stopgap measure “is not the preferred way of doing the nation’s financial work.
“However, given the late date, a continuing resolution is necessary to stop a governmentwide shutdown that would halt critical government programs and services, destabilize our economy, and put the safety and well-being of our citizens at risk,” he said in a statement.
Speaking on “FOX News Sunday,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said delaying the law is effectively denying the law’s benefits to millions of Americans.
“We’re willing to work out the kinks, but the Republicans just want to wipe out everything about the law,” Van Hollen said. “They’re not afraid it’s going to fail. They’re afraid it’s going to work.”
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said the current situation is shaping up much like the government shutdown in the 1990s when Bill Clinton was president. Gingrich was presiding over the GOP-controlled House at the time.
“Clearly, President Obama is going to go to the mat for Obamacare,” Gingrich said. “We are drifting toward a very fundamental fight. It’s unavoidable.”