WASHINGTON — Even with no deal made, Thursday marked the first day of progress in the federal shutdown stalemate, Rep. Steve Scalise said after leaving White House negotiations.
“It was the first time we’ve sat down with the president to discuss the funding of government and the debt ceiling,” said Scalise, R-Jefferson, about talks a contingent of Republicans had with President Barack Obama.
“We agreed to continue negotiations and let’s see where that leads … There’s still a long way to go, but at least we’re talking.”
The Louisiana congressional delegation offered decidedly mixed reactions after the GOP House leadership floated a proposal to lift the debt ceiling for six weeks while temporarily keeping the partial government shutdown in effect.
The goal of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was to leverage Obama and Senate Democrats into negotiating over larger reductions in government spending and “entitlement reforms” on things such as Medicare, Social Security and food stamps.
The White House initially expressed some openness to a short-term debt ceiling increase, but Obama did not reach an agreement on any such the plan after he met late Thursday with 20 House GOP leaders, including Scalise, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee.
While there is no deal yet, Scalise said late Thursday that talks have at least begun and are ongoing.
Obama has argued that keeping the government open and paying its bills on time must not be used as bargaining chips by Republicans. The U.S. Treasury has set Oct. 17 as the estimated day the government will not be able to pay all its bills and could face default soon thereafter.
Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, said he “likely” would support the short-term debt ceiling plan and Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said the proposal “shows the good faith effort of Republicans to negotiate.
“Our only demand is that he (Obama) negotiates,” Cassidy said. “It’s just amazing to me that he has gotten a pass, by the way, for not negotiating.”
After a meeting of Senate Democrats with Obama earlier in the day, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said Thursday she wants to “negotiate” but not with a “gun to the head” of the American people and businesses.
She complained Republicans keep moving the “goalposts” on their demands from the “Defund Obamacare” movement to government spending demands to holding the line on having negotiations on entitlements.
Landrieu said people are “going to be much angrier in six weeks” if the debt ceiling is lifted temporarily but hundreds of thousands of federal employees and businesses are still impacted by the shutdown.
“It doesn’t make much sense to me,” Landrieu said.
“The approach doesn’t work for the economy; the approach doesn’t work for Louisiana … I hope I’m going to have another option to vote on.”
The Democratic-led Senate is planning to vote Saturday on a debt ceiling increase through 2014. But that proposal could be filibustered and is unlikely to pass the House anyway.
Some Senate Republicans are working on a plan to reopen the government, lift the debt ceiling and also repeal the medical device tax that funds a large chunk of the Affordable Care Act health care law.
Boustany argued avoiding a government default must be the top priority and that it is a “red line” that must not be crossed.
“We absolutely don’t want to default on the debt, and so we have to get something in place,” Boustany said.
“The key is to figure out how do you set up the next step (of negotiations) so that we don’t lose ground, and we don’t find ourselves in November right back here again with nothing to show for it.”
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, said he opposes anything that does not also reopen government.
“I think it’s absurd that you’d do a clean debt ceiling for six weeks and leave the American people at home and not working and leave the lights off,” Richmond said. “That just doesn’t make sense. It’s just more of the same.
“It almost shows a disdain for the government employee,” he added.
Cassidy called it “laughable” for the president to say he gets everything he demands and then he will negotiate.
While Cassidy supported the “Defund Obamacare” effort, he reiterated that Republicans have made other offers that continue to be rejected without negotiations. The shutdown only occurred because Democrats would not agree to delay the health care individual mandate just as the president unilaterally delayed the employer mandate, Cassidy said.
“One side refuses to negotiate. That’s just amazing to me,” Cassidy said. “It (a shutdown or debt ceiling crisis) is the only time we can get them to table.”
Landrieu though has reiterated that Senate Democrats have attempted 21 times over the past six months to enter into conference negotiations on the overall federal budget and that tea party Republicans have blocked every such effort.
“Hopefully, we can find a path forward, but they’re holding the government hostage,” she said.
Apart from hundreds of thousands of federal employees not getting paid, Landrieu argued that businesses and non-profits that do business with the government are suffering.
Oil-and-gas leasing and permitting is slowing, she said, and imports and exports are stalling in the state.