President Obama strongly scolded congressional Republicans on their failure so far to reach a budget compromise that would avert a government shutdown by the end of the week, instructing them to start acting like “grown-ups” and to stop playing political games.
“We don’t have time for games,” he told reporters during a rare appearance in the White House briefing room. “We don’t have time to score political points.”
Obama, who met with Republican and Democratic leaders at the White House Tuesday, said he would make himself available to meet again Wednesday and Thursday if lawmakers cannot come to some consensus today. He also criticized Republicans for saying they don’t agree to the $33 billion in cuts that Democrats have agreed to and for including extraneous politically motivated policy riders.
“What we can’t do is have a my way or the highway approach to this problem,” he said. “If we start applying that approach, that we can’t get 110 percent of everything we want, than we’re not going to get anything done this year.”
As of late last week, House Republican and Senate Democratic leaders appeared to be close to a budget deal that would prevent a government shutdown, but on Monday and again Tuesday, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) balked and appeared to up the ante in the spending standoff.
Emerging from the White House meeting Tuesday morning, Boehner said in a readout of the gathering that lawmakers had yet to strike a deal, ratcheting up the brinksmanship over the possibility of a government shutdown if the two sides cannot reach an agreement on spending cuts in a continuing resolution keeping the government up and running through the end of September. A previous stop-gap spending bill keeping the government funded will expire on Friday.
If they cannot reach an agreement by Friday, Boehner said Republicans would “rally behind” yet another stop-gap spending bill that would fully fund the Defense Department while cutting an additional $12 billion in spending.
Obama said he would sign such a stop-gap bill but only if the two sides reach a deal and the additional continuing resolution would only keep the government operating for days while the deal is finalized and voted on in the House and Senate.
Behind the scenes, federal agencies are putting together contingency plans in the case of a shutdown, which last occurred during the Clinton administration in 1996.Republicans, led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) were largely blamed for that shutdown and were punished in the polls in the election that followed.
Obama warned of the impact a government shutdown would have on the economy’s fragile recovery.
“At a time when the economy is just beginning to grow… the last thing we need is a disruption that’s caused by a government shutdown, not to mention all the people who depend on government services,” Obama said Tuesday. “It would be inexcusable for us to not be ale to take care of last year’s business…simply because of politics.”
Obama also drew a line in the sand over spending cuts he and Senate Democrats consider unacceptable, namely, cuts to the Head Start program, which provides educational, nutritional, and health services to younger children to help prepare them for school, and medical research.
“We are not going to cut those things that we think are 100 percent vital to the American public” and to the economic recovery, Obama said.
Despite several statements by Senate Democrats, as well as Vice President Joe Biden, that the two sides had agreed to an overall spending figure of $33 billion, Boehner on Tuesday denied agreeing to that number. A House GOP aide told TPM Democratic statements indicating otherwise were simply “wishful thinking.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney contradicted that point in a follow-up briefing after Obama spoke to reporters.
“As the Vice president has said [the number] was a target that we could work from—appropriators have been working on that principle and they didn’t get that out of thin air,” he said.