President Barack Obama today called on congressional leaders – especially Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) – to act like “grown-ups” and avert a government shutdown after they made no apparent progress in reaching a budget agreement at a White House meeting earlier in the day. Obama, in a surprise appearance at the daily White House press briefing, underscored his direct involvement in the process – after weeks of publicly staying on the sidelines – and promised round-the-clock talks to stave off the shutdown that could occur on Friday.
And he rejected a Republican proposal to enact a third short-term spending deal – unless it’s a technical “paperwork” bridge to a larger bipartisan agreement.
Obama said lawmakers need to “act like grownups” and get a deal done, claiming “we have more than met the Republicans half way,” by agreeing to $73 billion in cuts from his 2011 budget – a number originally proposed by Boehner.
“We are now closer than we’ve ever been in getting an agreement,” Obama said, holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.
Obama, who left open the possibility of postponing a planned Wednesday trip to Philadelphia to directly participate in talks, added: “There are some things we can’t control… like earthquakes and tsunamis… What we can control is our capacity to have a reasoned, fair conversation between the parties.”
The president said his meeting with Boehner and legislative leaders Tuesday morning was productive but the speaker rejected the idea that the two sides had reached a deal.
“I think the American people recognize we are in some pretty unsettled times right now, we don’t have times for games, we don’t have time for trying to score political points and maneuvering… Not on this.”
For his part, Boehner said the meeting went well, but told reporters that the two sides weren’t close to a deal, citing the nature and size of the cuts proposed by the White House.
“Despite attempts by Democrats to lock in a number among themselves, I’ve made clear that their $33 billion is not enough,” he said in a statement, referring to the amount of real cuts proposed by Democrats.
Boehner blasted Obama’s proposal as “smokes and mirrors” and has suggested the White House accept a new one-week extension with a year-long guarantee for military spending.
Boehner and Reid will meet later today – and have asked for administration officials to stay away, Obama said.
“The speaker apparently didn’t want our team involved in that discussion,” he added. “That’s fine. If they can sort it out, then we’ve got more than enough to do. If they can’t sort it out then, I want them back here tomorrow. But it would be inexcusable for us to not be able to take care of last year’s business.”
Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck contested Obama’s account of the the afternoon meeting.
“The Speaker never said he didn’t want the White House there, just that he wanted to meet with Senator Reid,” he said. “Speaker Boehner and Senator Reid have been having regular discussions on this topic for weeks. This is just one of those occasions.
Federal agencies have begun making contingency plans for a possible shut down and Obama laid out several functions that would stop if the government shuts down, including some veterans’ benefits, small business loans and national parks and monuments.
He quipped that lawmakers have “enough of a cushion” that is not available to other Americans.