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Looming debt-ceiling deadline adds to shutdown drama: Lynn Sweet

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell R-Ky. departs Capitol en route White House after President Barack Obaminvited top lawmakers discuss an

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., departs the Capitol en route to the White House after President Barack Obama invited top lawmakers to discuss an end to the government shutdown, in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. Earlier Wednesday, Republicans rejected Democratic demands to vote on legislation ending a two-day partial government shutdown without changes to the nation's three-year-old health care law. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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Updated: November 4, 2013 12:25PM



WASHINGTON — The difficult politics involved in resolving the partial federal government shutdown are now wed to a series of intractable problems associated with raising the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt ceiling by Oct. 17.

The two contentious issues were married Wednesday as it became clear that there is no quick solution to the shutdown. And the debt-ceiling deadline is fast approaching.

President Barack Obama told CNBC’s John Harwood Wednesday he was prepared to “have a reasonable, civil negotiation around a whole slew of issues,” but only after Congress approves a resolution to provide funding for government to reopen and the debt ceiling is raised.

Obama met with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at the White House.

Nothing much came of the huddle.

Emerging from the West Wing, Boehner told reporters, “The president reiterated one more time tonight that he will not negotiate.”

While the federal shutdown is causing financial hardship to many and reducing federal services, a U.S. default on the debt could trigger international economic turmoil.

With the issues now intertwined, Pelosi said after the White House meeting, “I mean, closing the government is bad, the combination of that and not lifting the debt ceiling is beyond cataclysmic for the country.”

A McConnell spokesman said “the meeting was cordial but unproductive.”

We have gotten used to governing-by-crisis. I spent this past New Year’s Eve in the Senate press gallery watching Congress about to jump off the fiscal cliff with a deal over taxes clinched only under extreme deadline pressure. In August 2011, amidst an abundance of brinksmanship, the debt ceiling was raised.

At the crux of the shutdown is a demand by GOP House leaders —under pressure from the Tea Party faction — to try to kill or weaken Obamacare in exchange for approving a stopgap measure to keep government operating after the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

This comes as a major component of Obamacare was launched on Tuesday with the opening of health insurance online marketplaces.

Obama, via the CNBC interview, sent a message to Wall Street that it might not be gridlock-as-usual when it comes to the twin shutdown and debt ceiling crisises.

“I think this time’s different. I think they should be concerned,” Obama told CNBC.

“It is not unusual for Democrats and Republicans to disagree. That’s the way the founders designed our government. Democracy is messy. But when you have a situation in which a faction is willing, potentially, to default on U.S. government obligations, then we are in trouble. And if they’re willing to do it now, they’ll be doing — willing to do it later.”

Obama seems to be looking for Wall Street — populated with establishment Republicans — to work with their own to avoid a debacle.

At this stage, Republicans think they have more leverage because of the shutdown. They see an opportunity to chip at Obama’s resolve to keep the debt ceiling out of the deal-making mix. They are trying to link broader budget and Obamacare issues and raising the debt ceiling into the fix for funding government to re-open.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), who is part of the House leadership as the chief deputy whip — and who served with Obama in the Illinois state Senate — told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” that “I think President Obama is going to end up negotiating.

“I think he’s on an island that will become more and more flooded. It’s too shrill. It’s actually not very Obama-like to say, ‘I’m not going to negotiate.’

“I think President Obama today could do something very helpful. He says, look, let’s not lurch from crisis to crisis. Let’s deal with the debt ceiling. Let’s deal with it all, and let’s deal with it right now,” Roskam said.

Before the meeting with the House and Senate leaders, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama “will not negotiate — he will not offer concessions to Republicans in exchange for not tanking the economy.

“What he is not willing to do is negotiate under the threat of default or under the threat of continuing to shut down the government. Congress has a responsibility to open the government.”

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) told me she was not optimistic about an early end to this crisis, now made more complicated with injection of raising the debt limit.

“Not paying our debt and not raising the debt ceiling will be catastrophic for our economy,” Duckworth said. “If it is this bad now, I don’t know where we go when we get to the debt ceiling. We can’t start using the debt ceiling as a tool for negotiations when you don’t like policy.”

Email: lsweet@suntimes.com

Twitter: @lynnsweet



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