* House leaders weighing debt ceiling idea but decision
* Republicans play down their demands on healthcare law
By David Lawder and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON, Oct 9 U.S. House of Representatives
Republicans are considering signing on to a short-term increase
in the government's borrowing authority to buy time for
negotiations on broader policy measures, according to a
Republican leadership aide.
How long the increase might suffice - a few weeks or a few
months - was unclear. But agreement by Republicans and Democrats
to raise the debt ceiling would at least stave off a possible
default after Oct. 17, when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has
determined the government will no longer be able to borrow.
President Barack Obama has said he would accept a debt
ceiling increase of limited duration as long as no strings were
attached, except perhaps a non-binding agreement to discuss
It was unclear Wednesday night how far Republicans might be
prepared to go to meet Obama's conditions. Republicans in the
House have been demanding a variety of conditions - including
changes to Obama's healthcare law - in return for cooperating on
the debt ceiling and on a funding measure that might reopen the
government, which has been partially shut down since Oct. 1.
In recent days, however, Republican emphasis has shifted
more toward deficit reduction measures and less to Obamacare,
the health care law.
Republicans in particular and Congress in general have taken
a public beating in the showdown, with an Associated Press-Gfk
survey on Wednesday showing Congress as a whole at a rock-bottom
5 percent approval rating. More than six of every 10 Americans
blamed Republicans for the impasse.
Republican leaders plan to make remarks to reporters on
Thursday at 11 a.m. (1500 GMT) but it was uncertain whether they
would be prepared to unveil anything concrete then. The party's
leadership has proven unable to control rebellious conservatives
in the House, who have sufficient power to squelch any deal they
FIRST FACE-TO-FACE TALKS
With pressure rising and no clear path forward for breaking
their fiscal impasse, Obama launched a series of White House
meetings with lawmakers on Wednesday to search for a way to end
a government shutdown and raise the debt limit.
House Democrats journeyed to the White House to discuss the
fiscal stalemate, and Senate Democrats and Republican leaders in
the House of Representatives will make separate treks on
Thursday amid rising worries about the potential for economic
havoc in the crisis.
The depth of the dispute was evident, however, in the
failure of Obama and House Speaker John Boehner to even agree on
a guest list for their Thursday session.
The White House invited all House Republicans, but Boehner
limited the visitors to 18 party leaders and prominent committee
chairs, lessening Obama's exposure to Republicans who might
dissent from the leadership's hard-line strategy and to
rank-and-file Tea Party members who inspired it.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama was
"disappointed" at the truncated guest list because "the
president thought it was important to talk directly with the
members who forced this economic crisis on the country."
The impasse has shut the government for nine days and
rattled financial markets with the threat that the country's
$16.7 trillion borrowing limit will not be raised before the
Oct. 17 deadline.
Republican Tea Party fiscal conservatives precipitated the
crisis by demanding that Obama's healthcare reform law be
delayed or curtailed in exchange for approving the funding of
government operations and raising the debt ceiling.
But in a shift some Republicans hope will strengthen their
hand in the fight, the party's House leaders have played down
demands to weaken the healthcare law and focused instead on
calls to rein in deficits.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, the House
Budget Committee chairman and former vice presidential
candidate, both published opinion pieces focused on tackling
long-term debt and deficits instead of the healthcare law.
The White House meeting with House Republicans will be the
first face-to-face talks between Obama and his political
adversaries since last week, although lawmakers have informally
been exploring possible compromises and ways to resolve the
Republican senators on Wednesday were considering a proposal
by Senator Susan Collins of Maine that would reopen the
government and increase the borrowing authority while repealing
an unpopular medical device tax designed to finance subsidies
under the healthcare law.
Collins' plan also would give federal agencies flexibility
in dealing with across-the-board spending cuts that kicked in
earlier this year and are opposed by many members of Congress.
After a meeting of Republican senators, John McCain of
Arizona called her initiative "a pretty good proposal that some
of us like," and a Senate Republican aide said there are
discussions about possibly incorporating a short-term debt limit
increase into the measure.
"We continue to talk. No progress, but there never is until
you reach a breakthrough," McCain told reporters "I'm not saying
that we will ever reach a breakthrough. I'm saying conversations
are going on. I hope that they reach some conclusion. I'm not
sure whether they will or not."
'THEY'RE NOT GETTING ANYTHING'
All 200 House Democrats were invited to the afternoon
session at the White House, and Democratic leaders said most
made the trek. They said Obama was resolute about not
negotiating with Republicans until they drop their demands.
Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi said House Democrats
had not seen a short-term proposal for funding the government
and lifting the debt ceiling from Republicans and would not make
any concessions to get one.
"The debt ceiling needs to be lifted. They're not getting
anything for that. And we haven't seen an offer on that," she
Obama scolded Republicans on Tuesday for demanding
negotiations, but said he would talk about anything including
the healthcare law if Republicans re-opened the government and
lifted the debt ceiling even for the short term.
Boehner rejected Obama's demands as "unconditional
surrender," but other Republicans have showed a willingness to
consider a short-term deal if there was a framework in place for
Those hopes were fueled by the opinion columns on Wednesday,
particularly Ryan's column urging a negotiated end to the
stalemate but did not mention Republican demands for linking
changes in the federal healthcare law with government funding.
"I am beginning, by the way, to be a little hopeful
regarding our current situation. It looks like the House is
beginning to focus on the right things," Republican Senator Bob
Corker of Tennessee said on CNBC, pointing to Ryan's column.
But Boehner took to the House floor on Wednesday to
reiterate Republican demands that the healthcare law be part of
the broader discussions.
"Our message in the House has been pretty clear. We want to
reopen our government and provide fairness to all Americans
under the president's healthcare law," Boehner said.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim added his voice to a
chorus of experts warning about the impact of the stalemate,
saying on Wednesday that even the threat of a U.S. default could
hurt emerging markets and the world's most vulnerable people.
"We're very concerned. Because right now there's so many
headwinds as it is for emerging markets and the developing
world, that kind of impact really could be devastating," Kim