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Politics & Government

Shutdown Stalemate Continues In Dueling Press Conferences


If the president was hoping his message would win over House Republicans, it didn't. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, while Senate Democrats staged a series of speeches to build support for Obama's positions, House Speaker John Boehner dug in his heels. NPR's Tamara Keith joins me now from the Capitol. And, Tamara, it didn't take long for Speaker Boehner to come before reporters with his rebuttal to the president today.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Yes. And again, he called on the president to negotiate. He laid out the case that negotiations have happened in the past on debt ceiling increases and government spending bills, like are being debated now.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: The long and short of it is there is going be a negotiation here. We can't raise the debt ceiling without doing something about what's driving us to borrow more money and to live beyond our means.

KEITH: So if the president's message was we'll negotiate but only after you reopen the government and take the risk of default off the table, then Boehner's message at his press conference today was that's not my idea of negotiating.

BOEHNER: What the president said today was if there's unconditional surrender by Republicans, he'll sit down and talk to us. That's not the way our government works.

BLOCK: Well, tonight the House passed a bill that would create a working group to discuss the country's fiscal troubles. Tamara, how would that work and is it getting traction?

KEITH: It's not gaining a lot of traction outside of the House and it passed largely with Republican support alone. For a lot of people this brings back bad memories of that failed supercommittee from two years ago. But this not-so-super committee is actually even more toothless. It doesn't have a deadline. It doesn't really have much of a mandate. The only thing they are required to do is meet daily to discuss the government's fiscal problems, including increasing the debt limit, cutting spending on programs like entitlements and cutting government spending more broadly.

It doesn't do anything about revenues, which is why Democrats aren't particularly excited about it. And the White House has already issued a veto threat, saying this working group would do nothing to solve the immediate pressing obligations the Congress has to open the government and pay its bills.

BLOCK: All right. Well, let's talk about over the Senate side when Majority Leader Harry Reid has called all senators to the floor, he did that this afternoon. What's he up to?

KEITH: I think he was trying to get attention, though he did it at the precise time that the president was having its press conference. So he didn't get as much attention as maybe he would've liked. He took the opportunity to announce the introduction of a bill today to suspend the debt limit, to avoid default. And it would suspend the debt limit all the way through the end of 2014, getting past the midterm elections. Here was Reid explaining why this needs to happen.

SEN. HARRY REID: We may have our differences, Democrats and Republicans, but we should not hold the full faith and credit of this great country hostage while we resolve it.

BLOCK: So, Tamara, at the end of the day, a lot of talking, does anybody see a way out of this impasse?

KEITH: The only thing that I will say for right now is that, for a long time it felt like "Groundhog Day" here on the Capitol, but everything was just sort of the same again and again and again. Today felt a little different. Like they were - they felt a greater sense of urgency.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Tamara Keith at the Capitol. Tamara, thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.