Progress! President Obama and House Republican leaders finally held a high-profile meeting to resolve their impasse on economic issues and didn't attack each other afterward.
The White House session Thursday between the president and 20 GOP legislators could have provoked another round of finger-pointing and name-calling, as has happened so often in the past. Instead, all sides held their fire, and participants said the meeting actually made a bit of progress toward resolving differences on how to end the partial government shutdown and increase the federal debt limit. All in all, the Washington establishment seems to be moving at last toward finding an escape route from the economic and political mess they've gotten themselves into.
"He didn't say yes. He didn't say no," said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "We're continuing to negotiate this evening."
At one point during the 90-minute White House meeting, Obama requested specifics on how to stop the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. "What's it going to take?" he asked the Republicans, according to Politico. There was no breakthrough but the White House and the Republicans agreed to pursue their discussions.
Obama is scheduled to meet with Senate Republicans Friday.
There is rising urgency because the government is scheduled to start running out of money Oct. 17 unless the debt limit is increased.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said majority Republicans in the House would temporarily extend the government's ability to borrow money until Nov. 22 if Obama agrees to start negotiating ways to end the shutdown, which began Oct. 1.
Obama has said he won't accept any preconditions and wants Congress to simply extend the debt ceiling and reopen the government – and at that point he would enter into talks on broader issues such as entitlements, spending cuts and tax increases. A White House spokesman said, "The president's goal remains to ensure we pay the bills we've incurred, reopen the government and get back to the business of growing the economy."
White House strategists say the president has the upper hand because Republicans are getting most of the blame for the shutdown in various opinion polls.
Administration officials say the shutdown is hurting many Americans and argue that failure to increase the debt limit would mean a federal default on some of the country's obligations, undermining confidence in the U.S. government at home and abroad and damaging the economy.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.