President Barack Obama is hosting a meeting with top congressional leaders Wednesday evening in the Oval Office, but Republicans and Democrats appear no closer to reaching a solution that will end the government shutdown.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the purpose of the Wednesday meeting, which would include Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Vice President Joe Biden, is to discuss the economic ramifications of a potential debt ceiling default, which would occur on Oct. 17 if Congress doesn't vote to authorize a debt ceiling increase.
Carney and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made it clear Wednesday Democrats are still insisting Republicans pass a temporary funding measure that would re-open government at current spending levels before they will engage in a discussion about a new annual budget. Republicans, meanwhile, have been insisting Obama agree to a temporary funding solution that defunds his major domestic policy initiative, the Affordable Care Act.
"He's not going to engage in that kind of negotiation because he does not want to have held the openness of the government or the world and American economy hostage for a series of demands," Carney said during his daily press briefing. "What this president is asking the Congress to do is quite literally the least they could do. He is asking them to extend funding at the levels set in the previous fiscal year to keep the government open."
But it sounds like House Speaker John Boehner, who has been leading the Republican opposition, is not interested in coming to the negotiating table on those terms.
"The entire government is shutdown right now because Washington Democrats refuse to even talk about fairness for all Americans under Obamacare; offering to negotiate only after Democrats get everything they want is not much of an offer," said Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman. "Today, the House will continue to pass bills that reflect the American people's priorities."
In an open letter to Boehner, Reid said he was willing to assign members to a conference committee to debate long term budget funding issues, including tax reform, health care and agriculture spending, but only if Republicans agree to re-open the government. Reid said while he opposed the Iraq War during the Bush administration he never resorted to shutting down the government as a result.
"I could have taken the steps that you are taking now to block government funding in order to gain leverage to end the war. But I did not do that," he wrote. "You and your colleagues have repeatedly cited these fiscal issues as the things on which we need to work. This conference would be an appropriate place to have those discussions."
Carney reiterated that Obama would veto any partial funding measures that would fund government in a piecemeal fashion, such as re-open national parks or fund veterans benefits, the latest approach taken by House Republicans seeking to avoid political blame for the shutdown.
There are sufficient votes in the House to fund all of government, Carney insisted, if Boehner would hold a vote.
"The speaker of the House should hold a vote on that proposition and see what happens," Carney said. "It reflects the simple fact that unfortunately the speaker won't do that because he is responding to the demands of one faction, of one party, in one House of one branch of government and everyone is paying the price of that decision. There's a simple way out, do the democratic thing."