The sun had set over the West Wing by the time an unsmiling Speaker John Boehner told reporters Wednesday night the unsurprising news: no deal.
The upshot of an 83-minute meeting among congressional leaders and President Obama about funding the government and averting a U.S. default in two weeks produced nothing tangible, according to Boehner and his colleagues from both chambers.
“We’ve asked to have a conference to sit down and try to resolve our differences. They will not negotiate,” Boehner said in the White House driveway, referring to Democrats who control the Senate. He took no questions, and walked off to find his driver.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, exiting the West Wing doors in Boehner’s wake, blamed House Republicans for the stalemate, and said the risk of default needed to be alleviated -- and right away. Pelosi said Congress should vote to lift the nation’s borrowing authority, even if the current government funding dilemma remained unresolved for some period of time.
Reid complained Boehner was wedded to the idea of a House-Senate conference committee to work out a short-term funding measure, which he said would merely defer a longer-term solution.
“We have a debt ceiling crisis staring us in the face, and he wants to talk about a short-term CR?” Reid told reporters. “I thought that they were concerned about the long-term fiscal affairs of this country,” he added, referring to House conservatives.
Earlier in the evening, White House aides told reporters that Obama might want to speak on camera after the meeting, depending on how things went. Instead, the White House issued a placeholder statement that hinted at how mired in mud the discussion had been.
“The president made clear to the leaders that he is not going to negotiate over the need for Congress to act to reopen the government or to raise the debt limit,” the White House said an hour after the meeting ended.
But earlier Wednesday, Obama indicated something different. “I'm prepared to negotiate on anything,” he told CNBC in an interview.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, during his regular briefing earlier in the day, described the president’s bottom lines: The House must pass a short-term funding measure at appropriation levels in current law, without add-ons; the House must agree with the Senate to raise the nation’s borrowing authority, without conditions. If lawmakers seek to negotiate to improve the Affordable Care Act as separate legislation, he remains open to constructive ideas, along with any serious efforts to hammer out a longer-term budget deal that moves the country beyond brinksmanship, Carney said.
In a swirl of impromptu options tossed around among Republicans on Wednesday, some in the GOP began to warm to the notion of a deficit-cutting “grand bargain” as their umbrella in a crisis. As vaguely described, it would include conservative spending principles and no new revenues, suggesting why it was fated to go nowhere among Democratic lawmakers who aren’t in a mood to help Boehner appease the conservatives in his fired-up conference.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who also attended the White House meeting and is making every effort to remain in the good graces of the Tea Party in his home state of Kentucky, beat a hasty retreat after the discussion. He later described the session as “cordial but unproductive.”
“I was disappointed that [the president] had little interest in negotiating a solution or in encouraging Senate Democrats to agree to the House request for a conference,” McConnell said in a statement released by his staff.
No one suggested publicly where they hoped to begin again on Day 3 of the shutdown.Adam O'Neal contributed to this report.