Boehner: Not Enough Votes for 'Clean' Bill to Open Government

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House Speaker John Boehner insisted Sunday there are not enough votes in the House to pass "clean" bills to restart government funding and end the shutdown, or to protect the nation's ability to continue borrowing money, without Democratic concessions to Republican policy demands.

But Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew on Sunday blamed the shutdown on "the tactics of an extreme group" of House Republicans who have been demanding the defunding, delaying, or dismantling of Obamacare. And he says the administration simply won't back down.

"The president's message is clear: Congress needs to do its job. They need to open the government, they need to make it so we can pay our bills, and then we need to negotiate, and he is very much prepared to do that," said Lew, appearing on CNN's State of the Union.

Both men pressed their cases on Sunday morning's news shows, underscoring a wide gulf that continues to exist, at least publicly, between both sides as the government shutdown hits its seventh day on Monday. And Boehner, appearing on ABC's This Week, dismissed any hopeful notion that quiet, back-channel negotiations may be under way.

"There may be a backroom somewhere, but nobody's in it," Boehner said.

However, Boehner did note that Obama has canceled a scheduled trip this week to Asia, and the Ohio Republican said, "I'm ready for the phone call. I'm ready for the conversation."

Meanwhile, the looming debt-ceiling fight is coming into sharper focus. The administration has projected the current $16.7 trillion cap will be hit on about Oct. 17, and Lew has told Congress the repercussions range from harm to the nation's creditworthiness and standing to skyrocketing interest rates -- even causing the U.S. dollar to plummet.

Asked during This Week about previous promises that he will not permit the U.S. to default, Boehner said, "My goal is not to have the U.S. default on its debt."

But Boehner also warned "it is the path we're on" if Obama and congressional Democratic leaders' continue to refuse to negotiate and insist on what the speaker described as "complete surrender" from Republicans.

He also reaffirmed that he and other Republicans will press for spending cuts in return for increasing the nation's ability to borrow, but that they also see the debt-ceiling fight as an arena for a conversation about how to address the main drivers of U.S. debt, such as Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlements. "It is time for us to deal with our underlying spending problems," he said.

But Lew said on CNN that Congress is "playing with fire" if it risks failing to raise the nation's debt ceiling.

"You can't pay all the bills if Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling. And none of these bills are new. These are commitments that Congress made—it's paying old bills," he said. "It would be like someone ran up their credit card and decided not to pay it."

"You can't do that," Lew added, saying, "the United States government is just too important to the world. Our currency is the world's reserve currency."

Lew did add, "I know john Boehner doesn't want to default. He also didn't want to shut the government down." And he said the president does not want that to happen, either. "The president has been, is and will always be looking for that way to negotiate to find the sensible middle ground," he said.

But he added of hard-liners in the House Republican conference: "They ended up with a government shutdown because of the tactics of an extreme group trying to say we're willing to do real damage if we don't get our way."

Still, Boehner said the conference is united.

And on the fight over government funding that led to the shutdown Oct. 1—the start of the new fiscal year—Boehner indicated no inclination to put a "clean" bill on the floor.

Congressional Democrats, and a few Republicans, claim that if Boehner was willing to do that, going against the wishes of the hard-liners and others in his conference, that the bill would pass. They say that, along with few Republican moderates, most of the 200 Democrats among the total 432 House members would join in backing it.

But Boehner flatly said Sunday on ABC, "There are not the votes in the House to pass a clean CR." He did not specify if, by that, he meant not enough Republican votes, or votes in the entire House, including both parties.

Michael Czin, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, responded in a statement, "Instead of acknowledging that there are votes in the House to pass a clean continuing resolution to open the government—something that everyone admits but him—Speaker Boehner would rather keep the government shut to extract demands."

Boehner dismissed insinuations that he is being forced by the far Right in his conference into a stand-off he did not want. At one point, he admitted there had been conversations with Senate Democratic leaders about putting a clean CR on the floor, not directly attached to language targeting the Affordable Care Act.

"I thought the fight would be over the debt ceiling," said Boehner, but he added that in "talking with my members, they said, let's do it now."

When might the stalemate end?

"If I knew—I'd tell you," Boehner said.

Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., one of the conservatives most instrumental in the taking up Sen. Ted Cruz's call for Obamacare concessions as part of any bill to restart government spending, said during his own appearance on Fox News Sunday that House Republicans remain united.

And he dismissed the notion that he and other House conservatives would seek to strip Boehner of his speakership if he did not adhere to their hard line in negotiations.

"Nobody could do a better job than he could," Graves said.

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