WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) pleaded for patience Wednesday from a nervous faction of Republicans clamoring for a resolution to the government shutdown, now headed into a third day after congressional leaders left the White House without a path toward a deal.
Essentially resigned that they will be unable to win support from House Republicans for a no-strings bill to fund the government, the leadership has clearly shifted to the next battle: the debt ceiling. That all but ensures a prolonged government shutdown as Republicans seek a deal aiming at the Oct. 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling or face a potentially catastrophic default.
Top House Republicans have begun working on demands the GOP will make in exchange for raising the debt limit and reopening government, according to those familiar with the internal strategy.
Knowing that a delay of Obamacare remains unlikely to be accepted by the president, Republicans are expected to revisit the components of past budget battles: cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other entitlement programs, as well as reforming the tax code, a long-standing interest.
They may also seek to gain administration approval of the Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the United States and pursue smaller changes to the healthcare law, including the repeal of the tax on medical-device makers and an end to the individual patient advisory board.
House leaders are wary of engaging in another legislative ping-pong match with the Senate and would prefer to negotiate with Democrats and the White House – a strategy that has proven risky for Boehner in the past, as his troops protested being out of the loop.
A major agreement “would be the only way out of the mess right now,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), predicting the shutdown could last for weeks as such a deal comes together.
Wednesday’s White House meeting, which included Boehner, Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Vice President Joe Biden, lasted almost 90 minutes.
Boehner emerged alone, saying Democrats “will not negotiate” to end the shutdown.
“At some point we’ve got to allow the process that our founders gave us to work out,” he said. “All we’re asking for here is a discussion and fairness to the America people under Obamacare.”
Earlier in the day, Boehner held a series of meetings with party moderates. Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who was not in the meetings but has been one of the leaders of an effort to press leadership to shift strategy, said Boehner’s message was, “Have patience.” The lawmakers left the speaker’s office understanding that “there is no endgame right now,” he said.
Wednesday night, the House approved measures that would resume certain federal functions – reopening national parks and museums, and funding medical research at the National Institutes of Health. Earlier, the House also approved funding for the District of Columbia government, ensuring trash pick-up and other municipal services in and around the Capitol.
Republicans also held firm to defeat an effort by House Democrats that could have forced the body to vote on a broader spending bill to end the shutdown entirely, despite a new round of statements from centrist Republicans saying they would support such a bill.
“Leadership is committed to play the Cruz strategy all the way out,” said Nunes, who has been a vocal critic of that strategy led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) even though he has consistently voted to execute it. “I’m going to continue to support our leadership, even if we have entered the valley of death. When you enter the valley of death, you’ve got to keep running and the whole team has to stay together.”
Obama’s invitation to congressional leaders to meet at the White House also reassured some moderates.
“I think everyone’s trying to give leadership at least the opportunity to have the conversation with the other side,” said Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), who represents a district in New York City that Obama won last November.
Times staff writer Kathleen Hennessey contributed to this report.