An "exasperated" President Barack Obama Wednesday met with congressional leaders at the White House to discuss the budget standoff that has shut down parts of the federal government for the first time in 17 years, making it clear to them that he will not bargain with his health care law.
The top four leaders of both parties from both houses said no progress had been made after an hour and a half session in the Oval Office without any staff. After the meeting, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the president "reiterated tonight he will not negotiate."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) echoed that sentiment. "The president was very strong, strong, strong . . . that this has never happened before that a political party would take us to the brink of disaster and say we're not going to pay our bills," Reid said. "The president said he will not stand for that."
"We've got divided government," Boehner added outside the White House. "We had a nice conversation, a light conversation, but at some point we've got to allow the process that our Congress gave us to work out. All we're asking for here is a discussion and fairness for the American people under Obamacare."
The White House said in a statement after the meeting that Obama had made it clear "he is not going to negotiate over the need for Congress to act to reopen the government or to raise the debt limit to pay the bills Congress has already incurred." It added, "The president remains hopeful that common sense will prevail."
According to a White House official, the president planned to use the meeting to urge the Republican leaders to pass a "clean" continuing resolution -- without what Obama has called "ideological demands" such as riders aimed at undermining his signature health care law -- so that the government can reopen.
Obama also planned to "call on Congress to act to raise the debt ceiling to pay the bills we have already incurred and avoid devastating consequences on our economy," the official said.
But Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) both said that Boehner insisted that health care be part of negotiations.
According to Reid, as Boehner "said that he wanted to go to conference. He sent us something from the House, so I thought we would throw him a lifeline. I said, 'Fine, we'll go to conference; all we want you to do is open the government.' . . . And he says no."
The GOP-controlled House approved legislation to reopen the nation's parks and the National Institutes of Health, even though many Democrats criticized them as part of a piecemeal approach that fell far short of what was needed. The bills face dim prospects in the Senate, and the White House threatened to veto both in the unlikely event they make it to Obama's desk.
Earlier, an attempt by Democrats to force shutdown-ending legislation to the House floor failed, with all Republicans in opposition.
Earlier Wednesday, Obama canceled two stops on his long-planned trip to Asia because of the partial shutdown, the White House announced.
Obama also warned investors they should take the threat of a default seriously. "This time, I think Wall Street should be concerned," Obama said yesterday on CNBC, referring to a bigger showdown over raising the nation's $16.7 trillion debt ceiling later in the month. "When you have a situation in which a faction is willing to default on U.S. obligations, then we are in trouble." With AP