* More rhetoric as crucial deadlines loom
* So far, no meaningful talks
By Steve Holland and Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, Sept 19 President Barack Obama and
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner are gripped in
another budget battle, but so far the two are shouting at each
other from a distance instead of sitting down and negotiating as
crucial deadlines rapidly approach.
While they might be playing a waiting game, the fact that
they are not talking in a meaningful way - as they have during
previous showdowns on fiscal issues - is itself becoming a side
Twin deadlines face Washington, with a budget deal needed by
Sept. 30 to avoid a federal government shutdown and a separate
agreement necessary by mid-October to prevent the United States
from defaulting on its national debt.
Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, said on Thursday
Obama was willing to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir
Putin on Syria, "but he won't engage with the Congress on a plan
that deals with the deficits that threaten our economy."
White House spokesman Jay Carney repeated that Obama "will
be in conversations with congressional leaders in the coming
days," but did not say when, or with whom, joking during his
daily briefing that Boehner might have "Putin envy."
From Obama's perspective, Boehner is either unable or
unwilling to round up the stampede of House Republican
conservatives who want to gut funding for Obama's signature
healthcare law as part of any agreement on the budget and
extending the U.S. debt limit.
Privately, some Obama administration officials harbor doubts
as to whether a public meeting between Obama and Boehner would
help Boehner gain any influence over conservatives and bring
them along with any deal.
"Does anybody really believe that sitting down with Boehner
will make his efforts easier to deal with his crazies?" asked
one administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"We're sympathetic, but just because he's in a difficult
position doesn't relieve him from the responsibility to do what
is right for the country and not just the Tea Party," the
official added, referring to the conservative political
From Boehner's perspective, it is Obama who is in denial
about the need to negotiate over budget policy, specifically
raising the U.S. borrowing limit, a vote that had been routine
in years past but is now fraught with partisan peril every time
it comes up.
"We still have no indication that they (administration
officials) plan to engage in any way on the debt limit," said a
senior Republican congressional aide, speaking on condition of
'RUN OUT THE CLOCK'
Since negotiations would offer Obama a chance to restore
some of the $84 billion in automatic spending cuts - known as
"sequestration" - that took place this year, the president may
be missing a valuable opportunity, the aide said.
"They're trying to run out the clock on us and hope that we
blink," the aide added.
While it is possible the two sides can avoid a government
shutdown on Sept. 30 - the end of the current fiscal year - by
reaching a deal on a three-month extension of current spending,
the debt limit fight figures to be more serious and damaging,
with the potential for a default carrying the risk of unleashing
chaos in financial markets.
The lack of communication is particularly problematic
because of the current low-profile of Senate Republican leader
Mitch McConnell, who has played the broker in some past fiscal
fights. That has gotten him in some political trouble at home in
Kentucky, and may be one factor in why he is facing a
conservative challenger in his 2014 re-election bid.
McConnell has yet to emerge in a meaningful way in the
Last week, at a meeting on budget matters of "the Big Four"
congressional leaders - McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry
Reid, Boehner and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi - the
Kentucky Republican did not have much to say, a senior
Democratic aide said.
"He makes it tough for us to work with him. We don't know
where he is," the Democratic aide said.
If history is any guide, one side will blink in the end.
Since Democratic President Bill Clinton came out the winner from
a 1995 government shutdown battle with a Republican Congress,
the conventional wisdom is that Obama would be seen as the
victor in any such battle this year.
"I would imagine that the administration has calculated that
they will probably come out of that wreckage a little better
than the Republicans," said Peverill Squire, a political science
professor at the University of Missouri.
"Right now I don't think they have any idea who they can
talk to among the Republicans."