By Tom Curry, National Affairs Writer, NBC News
White House officials on Sunday pushed back on House Speaker John Boehner’s assertion that the Republican-controlled lower chamber could not pass a government spending bill or raise the debt ceiling without concessions from Democrats.
Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Boehner continued to assert that a stopgap government funding measure would not pass the House without GOP supported provisions like delaying the implementation of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
But top Obama administration officials said Boehner is wrong and called on the Republican leader to schedule a vote.
“We think that [Boehner’s comment] is not true and Boehner should put it on the floor and give it an up or down vote,” a senior administration official told NBC News.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer also tweeted at Boehner, demanding him to call for a vote to prove there were not enough votes to pass a bill that would end the government shutdown.
Can GOP end the shutdown now? Maybe not
Also on Sunday, the Ohio Republican said he’d insist on negotiations with Obama on some spending cuts as a precondition for the House to vote to raise the debt limit. “I'm not going to raise the debt limit without a serious conversation about dealing with problems that are driving the debt up,” he said.
“We're not going to pass a ‘clean’ debt limit increase,” he said, meaning that he’ll attach spending cuts or other policy changes to the bill to increase debt limit. “I told the president, there's no way we're going to pass one. The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit. And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us.”
Boehner told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that “every president in modern history has negotiated over a debt limit. Debt limits have been used to force big policy changes in Washington. And guess what, George? They're going to be used again.”
He said he is “ready for the phone call” from Obama or another Democratic leader. “I'm ready for a conversation. I'll take anybody on the Democrats' side who wants to seriously sit down and begin to work out this problem. I'm a reasonable guy.
Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that it would be “very dangerous” for Congress to not vote to raise the government’s debt limit before the authority to borrow runs out in about ten days.
“We’re on the verge of going into a place we’ve never been,” he said. “If we run out of cash to pay our bills, there is no option that permits us to pay all of our bills on time -- which means that a failure of Congress to act would for the first time put us in a place where we’re defaulting on our obligations as a government because of Congress’s failure to act.”
Lew informed congressional leaders in late August that the government’s debt limit -- which is now about $16.7 trillion -- will be reached no later than Oct. 17.
Once the debt limit is reached, the Treasury will be able to issue additional debt only in amounts equal to maturing debt.
At that point, the Treasury won’t have enough in daily tax receipts and cash on hand to meet all its obligations such as paying retirement benefits and paying government contractors.
And Sen. Rand Paul, R- Ky., a potential 2016 GOP presidential contender, said on Meet the Press, “I think it’s irresponsible of the president and his men to even talk about default. There is no reason for us to default. We bring in $250 billion in taxes every month; our interest payment is $20 billion. Tell me why we would ever default. We have legislation called the Full Faith and Credit Act and it tells the president, ‘You must pay the interest on the debt.’”
He said Obama and his aides were using the debt issue as a political gambit. For them, he said, “This is a game; it’s kind of like closing the World War II Memorial,” due to the government shutdown.
He said Obama and his aides are “the ones scaring the market” by talking about default on government securities.
A default on Treasury securities would have ripple effects on financial markets since some financing deals rely on Treasury bonds as collateral for loans -- and defaulted securities can’t be used as collateral.
But Reuters reported Friday that the financial sector is making contingency plans for a default. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, which represents securities firms, banks and asset managers, has devised plans that would permit trading platforms to still process deals involving defaulted U.S. Treasuries.
As concern grows over the debt limit, the impasse over a short-term spending bill passed by the Senate nine days ago continues, as does a partial shutdown of the federal government.
On ABC's This Week, Boehner said, “There are not the votes in the House to pass a clean CR,”—a continuing resolution or short-term spending bill even though some of his Republican members have called for a “clean” – unamended – continuing resolution.
When he was asked how the standoff ends, Boehner replied replied, "If I knew, I'd tell you.”
“The shutdown is harming people every day,” Lew said on Meet the Press. “I think we’re seeing that in the kind of ironic actions of those who chose to shut the government down and item by item trying to re-open the government for things as they discover there’s real pain out there,” Lew said.
The GOP-controlled House has passed a series of targeted bills that pay for specific departments or agencies.
Asked by NBC’s Savannah Guthrie about the anonymous quote in the Wall Street Journal attributed to a senior administration official that “we are winning. It doesn’t really matter to us how long the shutdown lasts because what matters is the end result,” Lew said, “There are no winners here. Every day the government is shutdown it does real harm to the American people.”
And the House did vote unanimously Saturday to retroactively pay federal workers for their lost salaries during the shutdown.
About 800,000 government employees have been furloughed, but the Pentagon announced Saturday that it will call 300,000 of its furloughed civilian employees back to work.
But Lew said the entire government should be funded; “you can’t cherry pick an item here, an item there.”
NBC News' Kristen Welker and Andrew Rafferty contributed to this report.
First published October 6 2013, 12:45 PM