House Republicans are expected to vote on a measure as soon as today to establish a new committee of lawmakers to begin immediately negotiating a deal to reduce the deficit, increase the debt limit and end the government shutdown that’s stretching into its eighth day.
“I want to have a conversation. I’m not drawing any lines in the sand,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said during a news conference at the Capitol this morning. “It’s time for us to just sit down and resolve our differences.”
But moments later, at about 10:45 a.m., President Obama phoned Boehner at the Capitol to decline the latest Republican idea.
“The president called the speaker again today to reiterate that he won’t negotiate on a government funding bill or debt-limit increase,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.
The White House, however, said Obama told the speaker that he is willing to negotiate with Republicans, but only after they reopen the government and eliminate the threat of default.
“The president urged the speaker to hold a vote in the House of Representatives on the Senate-passed measure that would re-open the federal government immediately,” the White House said in a readout of the call.
Congressional Republicans say the House will vote as soon as today on two bills. The first measure – known as H.J. Res. 89, the Federal Worker Pay Fairness Act – is to ensure that paychecks for “essential” government employees working through the shutdown, such as the U.S. Capitol Police, are issued on time. Friday will begin a period for when many government employees are paid that ends Tuesday, Oct. 15.
The second bill the House is expected to consider as soon as today – H.R. 3273, the Deficit Reduction and Economic Growth Working Group Act of 2013 – establishes a negotiating team for the debt limit and other fiscal issues. The team would be made up of House and Senate Republicans and Democrats, and would immediately start negotiating on debt limit and other fiscal issues.
The two bills would merge and then be sent to the Senate.
“Americans expect us to work out our differences, but refusing to negotiate is an untenable position,” Boehner said. “And frankly by refusing to negotiate, Harry Reid and the president are putting our country on a pretty dangerous path. There’s never been a president in our history that did not negotiate over the debt limit, never, not once.”
According to the legislation, the working group would be comprised of 20 members – 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans.
The Speaker would appoint 10 Members of the House of Representatives, of which one shall be designated as House co-chair and four would be on the recommendation of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would also appoint 10 Senators, of which one shall be designated as Senate co-chair and four shall be on the recommendation of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The creation of a new working group evokes memories of the doomed Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the “Supercommittee,” which failed to strike a deficit reduction deal late in 2011, leaving sequestration – $1 trillion worth of across-the-board cuts – in its wake.
“All we’re asking for is to sit down and have this conversation. There’s no reason to make it more difficult to bring people to the table,” Boehner added. “There’s no boundaries here. There’s nothing on the table. There’s nothing off the table. I’m trying to do everything I can to bring people together and to have a conversation.”
Still, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor made clear that Republicans will continue to ask for a one-year delay of the individual mandate, a request that is sure to be a sticking point should Democrats ultimately agree to join negotiations.
“In a divided government, the American people expect us to work together,” Cantor, R-Va., said. “Whether it is on the government’s funding or the debt limit, people expect to have negotiations when there are two differing sides.
“Never negotiating, a position of not negotiating, is not a sustainable option, and we ask this president and Harry Reid to sit down and let’s iron out our differences.”
ABC News’ Mary Bruce contributed to this report