WASHINGTON Even if Democrats were willing to negotiate over reopening the government and lifting the debt ceiling, they wouldn't know where to start because of confusing signals from Republicans, the second-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives said on Monday.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said it is unclear what Republicans want, with many conservatives clamoring to roll back President Barack Obama's healthcare law and House Speaker John Boehner saying he will not raise the debt limit unless Obama negotiates on ways to reduce deficits.
"It is such a roller-coaster of inconsistencies that it's hard to follow what they want and what they would take," Hoyer of Maryland told Reuters in an interview. "It's hard to find out how we can get out of this place they've put us in."
As the government shutdown neared the end of its first full week and an October 17 deadline to raise the debt limit drew closer, Obama and his Democrats have refused to negotiate on Republican demands over these issues. Democrats have said they would not be threatened into negotiations, and first the government must be funded and borrowing authority increased.
If the government were reopened and the threat of default were removed, Hoyer said he would gladly launch talks to try to narrow differences between Democrats and Republicans on spending. He said Democrats have already compromised on this front by accepting automatic spending cuts that were part of the stop-gap measure to fund the government that has stalled in Congress, prompting the shutdown.
Hoyer said Democrats have made it clear they won't accept changes to Obama's signature healthcare law, but that many Republicans don't believe this. No Republican has offered specific demands on spending cuts or tax changes in exchange for raising the debt limit, he said.
"It's hard to know how we compromise. Compromise with what?" he said.
On Sunday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a driving force behind the Republican push to block the healthcare law, said Republicans want three things before raising the debt ceiling: a plan to reduce spending, a promise for no new taxes and measures to "mitigate the harm from Obamacare," the widely used name for the law to expand health insurance coverage.
Hoyer contended there are enough Republican votes in the House to pass a funding resolution without conditions to reopen the government. It is less clear whether there are enough Republicans to vote for a clean debt limit increase, he said.
Boehner said on Sunday that a debt limit increase without any conditions would not pass the House, where Republicans hold a 233-200 majority.
Hoyer said that should be put to the test by bringing the funding and debt limit bills to the floor. "Show the American people that there aren't the votes," he said.
(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Vicki Allen)