UPDATE 2-Obama asks business leaders to push Congress to raise debt limit
By Mark Felsenthal and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, Sept 18 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama appealed to business leaders on Wednesday to urge Congress to approve an increase in the U.S. debt limit without conditions even as congressional Republicans unveiled new efforts to delay the president's healthcare program.
"It is going to be important for all of you over the next several weeks to understand what's at stake and to make sure that you are using your influence in whatever way we can to get back to what used to be called regular order around here," Obama told the Business Roundtable.
The president's speech to about 100 top corporate executives was part of an effort to focus on domestic budget and economic issues after a month dominated by foreign policy, mainly the conflict in Syria.
Deadlines loom that could bring a government shutdown in less than two weeks and a debt default as soon as Oct. 18 if Congress and the White House cannot strike deals on the budget and the debt limit.
The president reiterated his vow not to negotiate over raising the debt limit, which Republicans want to tie to spending cuts or to blocking his signature healthcare program. He further said he was willing to haggle over the terms of the budget, but not against the threat of a government shutdown or killing the healthcare program.
"I'm happy to negotiate with them around the budget," Obama said. "What I will not do is to create a habit, a pattern, whereby the full faith and credit of the United States becomes a bargaining chip to set policy."
The U.S. Treasury is expected to exhaust measures to avoid exceeding the $16.7 trillion debt limit in about a month. If the borrowing cap is not raised, the United States will not be able to pay all of its bills and would go into default.
At the same time, the healthcare program, formally called the Affordable Care Act but popularly called Obamacare, faces a deadline Oct. 1 when sign up for insurance exchanges opens to the public. The six-month sign-up period is deemed critical to the success of the law, and the administration has struggled against political and operational obstacles to get the program running.
As the president spoke, Republicans in the House of Representatives set in motion a plan aimed at avoiding a federal government shutdown but bringing about another confrontation over Obamacare, and forcing a fight over the debt ceiling.
Obama had sharp language for the Republican tactic of linking cuts to Obamacare to an increase in the debt ceiling, likening it to extortion and calling it "terrifying financial brinksmanship because of some ideological arguments that people are having."
Republicans are under pressure from some of their most conservative members to link government funding measures to cuts or delays to Obamacare.
The House Republican plan unveiled Wednesday would, through a complicated legislative dance, fund government through Dec. 15 but deny money for Obamacare. The Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, would strip those provisions before passing the bill.
The retooled measure would then have to win support from enough Democrats and Republicans to pass the House.
Republicans would then try again to attach an Obamacare defunding measure to separate legislation raising the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling.
However, White House spokesman Jay Carney repudiated the Republican approach.
"House Republicans have decided to pursue a path away from the center, away from compromise, in favor of voting on a piece of legislation that they know will not become law," he told repo.
"A faction of the House of Representatives, the House Republicans is driving this thing in the wrong direction, (and) could bring us closer to a wholly unnecessary and damaging shutdown of the government," he said.
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