Obama pressures Republicans to raise debt ceiling, end shutdown

Reuters

By Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (Reuters) - President Barack Obamapressured Republican lawmakers on Saturday to agree to raise theU.S. debt ceiling for longer than they would prefer, as theirfiscal impasse dragged into the weekend with five days left tofind a deal.

The budget battle between Obama and Republicans who controlthe House of Representatives has idled hundreds of thousands ofgovernment workers hit by a 12-day government shutdown and putthe United States at risk of a historic debt default, possiblyby next Thursday, unless the borrowing limit is raised.

With the potential of an economic calamity looming, Obamaand his Republican opponents are trying to agree on how long toextend the debt ceiling, with Republicans wanting to limit theextension to six weeks to try force more concessions out of thepresident.

Obama made clear in his weekly address Saturday that hewants a longer debt ceiling extension to get the U.S. economythrough the holiday shopping season without a convulsive shock.Republicans want a commitment to broader deficit-reduction talksfrom the White House.

"It wouldn't be wise, as some suggest, to kick the debtceiling can down the road for a couple of months, and flirt witha first-ever intentional default right in the middle of theholiday shopping season," Obama said.

While Obama's talks with House Republicans on Thursday andSenate Republicans on Friday were seen as a constructive sign ofprogress, there appears to be still a ways to go and manydetails to iron out before a deal can be clinched.

North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven said there areenough ideas being discussed to get to an agreement, but the keynow is finding the right combination of them that can pass boththe House and Democratic-controlled Senate.

"I do think it's going to take a few days here to get thatright combination, but I'm hopeful we'll get a deal," Hoeventold Reuters.

He said Republicans are willing to lift the debt ceiling andend the shutdown but want to make sure that government spendingis cut - something they have been trying to negotiate with theWhite House for months without success.

"I want to see the government get opened and I want to see adebt-ceiling solution. But we've got to use this time as well tofind some savings and reforms, and we are talking about whatsavings and reforms we can get people to agree to," he said.

Republicans have been knocked on their heels by pollsshowing Americans largely blame them for triggering the crisis,a political dynamic that has strengthened Obama's hand. Thepresident has been unyielding in his insistence that he will notnegotiate over the debt ceiling.

Obama told Americans that his Republican opponents aremanufacturing a crisis that has the potential for damaging theU.S. credit rating and causing global markets to go haywire.

"Our government is closed for the first time in 17 years. Apolitical party is risking default for the first time since the1700s. This is not normal. That's why we have to put a stop toit," he said.

House Republicans will meet at the Capitol on Saturdaymorning to discuss their options after sending the White House aproposal that included the short-term increase in the debt limitthat would clear the way for re-opening the government.

The House Republican proposal called for cuts in entitlementprograms like the Medicare health plan for seniors to replacetwo years of the automatic spending cuts known as"sequestration" agreed to last year by Congress, seniorcongressional aides said.

California Republican Representative Buck McKeon, chairmanof the House Armed Services Committee, said in the Republicanweekly address that his party is standing on some importantprinciples.

"It's about stemming the tide of debt and deficits thatthreatens to wash out an entire generation's opportunities," hesaid.

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