A defiant US President Barack Obama on Wednesday said he is willing to open talks with Republicans to defuse the budget crisis that has caused the crippling government shutdown,but refused to be intimidated by their “extortion threats” regarding his contentious healthcare plan.
Taking on his political opponents,Obama said Republicans
“don’t get to demand ransom in exchange for doing their jobs”
by demanding policy concessions before allowing the government
to reopen and raise the debt limit in the face of an unprecedented debt default.
Obama,who made a surprise phone call to the Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner,also made it clear that he would not hold talks to end the deadlock over the federal budget while under threat from conservative Republicans,but agreed to discuss anything,including his ambitious healthcare plan dubbed ‘Obamacare’,if they restore government funding and raise the debt limit.
“If reasonable Republicans want to talk about these things again,I’m ready to try,” Obama said.
He said any negotiations on the ongoing government shutdown or the debt limit “shouldn’t require hanging the threats of a shutdown or economic chaos over the heads of the American people”.
“We can’t make extortion routine as part of our democracy,” Obama said. “Democracy doesn’t function this way.
And this is not just for me. It’s also for my successors in office,whatever party they’re from.”
He also warned of the repercussions of defaulting on the government’s debt if Congress fails to raise the borrowing limit,currently set to be reached on October 17.
Obama said a default could disrupt capital markets,undermine international confidence in America,permanently increase the nation’s borrowing costs,add to its deficits and debt,and pose a “significant risk of a very deep recession”.
Boehner,speaking after what he called a “pleasant” but ineffectual phone call with Obama,promptly rejected the president’s comments as nothing new.
“What the president said today was if there’s unconditional surrender by Republicans,he’ll sit down and talk,” he said. “That’s not the way our government works.”
At the same time,Boehner said he’s “hopeful” top Republicans and Democrats could soon begin a “conversation.”
Republicans who control the House of Representatives have refused to approve the budget,saying they would only do so if the healthcare programme was delayed or stripped of funding.
Obama and the Democrats have refused,noting the law was passed in 2010,subsequently approved by the Supreme Court,and was a central issue in the 2012 election which Obama won.
US and foreign officials and economists have warned of catastrophic economic consequences if the US defaults on its debt because the government is unable to borrow money to fund its obligations.
“Failure to lift the debt ceiling would be a major event. Prolonged failure… would almost surely derail the US recovery,” IMF economic counsellor Olivier Blanchard said.
The shutdown has left federal employees on unpaid leave and closed national parks,tourist sites,official websites,office buildings,and more establishments since last Tuesday.
Congress must act by October 17 in order to avoid a debt default by the government which will run out of cash on that day for the first time in US history unless its USD 16.7 trillion debt ceiling is raised.