WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama accused his critics Wednesday of extorting him over raising the U.S. debt ceiling, as a Republican budget gamble brought the prospect of a government shutdown ever closer.
Obama and his Republican foes in Congress are locked into entrenched positions over lifting the $16.7 trillion borrowing cap and a government operating budget.
If there is no compromise — an increasingly likely prospect — government operations will grind to a halt on October 1 and the United States could default on its debts by the middle of next month, a scenario which could have alarming domestic and international implications.
“You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt ceiling being used to extort a president or a governing party,” Obama told business leaders.
The president is angry that conservatives in the House want to make an “ideological fight” over the debt ceiling by making its extension contingent on a delay in implementation of his cherished health care law, known as Obamacare.
He said he was ready to deal with Republicans over budget issues, but “what I will not do is create a habit, a pattern, whereby the full faith and credit of the United States ends up being a bargaining chip to set policy. It’s irresponsible.”
House Speaker John Boehner earlier appeared to cave in to Republican conservatives, who have threatened to vote against any deal on a temporary budget — known as a continuing resolution, or CR which would defer a shutdown — unless it defunds the health law and keeps this year’s deep automatic spending cuts in place.
“This week the House will pass a CR that locks the sequester savings in and defunds Obamacare,” Boehner told reporters after meeting for an hour with his caucus.
Boehner dismissed accusations he has lost control of his troops, many of whom revolted last week against a Boehner bill that would have allowed the Senate to easily strip out language to defund Obamacare as part of the CR.
“We have a plan that they’re happy with, we’re going forward,” Boehner said. “The fight over here has been won.”
Congress has just 12 days to negotiate a temporary budget before turning to the debt ceiling battle.
House Republican number two Eric Cantor warned that the fight to defund Obamacare “will continue as we negotiate the debt limit with the president and the Senate.”
He said Republicans would unveil a plan that extends the nation’s borrowing authority while delaying implementation of the health care law.
While Boehner stood firm in assuring that “there’s no interest in our part in shutting the government down,” he hinted that another fiscal showdown was in store.
“Even President Obama worked with us two years ago in the debt limit negotiations to put controls on spending,” Boehner said. “This year is not going to be any different.”
Senate Majority Harry Reid said he was now awaiting whatever “absurd” legislation the House might send his way, and savaged Boehner for being beholden to “anarchists” of the far-right.
“They do not want government to work on any level,” Reid said on the Senate floor.
Reid has said the Democratic-led Senate would not pass legislation that defunds the health care law.
Exasperated House Democrats said Republicans needed to do away with “fantasy politics” and work in good faith to extend the budget and the debt limit.
“This game of political chicken has to end,” said Xavier Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic caucus.
Meanwhile, conservative Republicans were set to unveil on Wednesday their party’s first comprehensive legislative alternative to Obamacare.
The bill, put forward by the Republican Study Committee, would provide a tax break for Americans who purchase their own health insurance and would seek to help defray costs of high-risk patients.