Obama, Congress search for way out as pressure rises in fiscal stalemate

Obama, Congress search for way out as pressure rises in fiscal stalemate
Speaker of the House John Boehner (L) and US President Barack Obama (R).

WASHINGTON - With pressure rising and no clear path forward for breaking their fiscal impasse, President Barack Obama launched a series of White House meetings with lawmakers on Wednesday to search for a way to end a government shutdown and raise the debt limit.

House Democrats journeyed to the White House to discuss the fiscal stalemate, and Senate Democrats and Republican leaders in the House of Representatives will make separate treks on Thursday amid rising worries about the potential for economic havoc in the crisis.

The depth of the dispute was evident, however, in the failure of Obama and House Speaker John Boehner to even agree on a guest list for their Thursday session.

The White House invited all House Republicans, but Boehner limited the visitors to 18 party leaders and prominent committee chairs, lessening Obama's exposure to Republicans who might dissent from the leadership's hard-line strategy and to rank-and-file Tea Party members who inspired it.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama was "disappointed" at the truncated guest list because "the president thought it was important to talk directly with the members who forced this economic crisis on the country."

The impasse has shut the government for nine days and rattled financial markets with the threat that the country's US$16.7 trillion (S$ 20.9 trillion) borrowing limit will not be raised before an Oct. 17 deadline identified by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

There were no tangible signs of progress on Wednesday, although some members of both parties floated the possibility of a short-term increase in the debt limit to allow time for broader negotiations on the budget.

A House Republican leadership aide confirmed that a short-term debt limit increase was under discussion. House Republican leaders plan to make remarks to reporters on Thursday at around 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), but it was not clear whether they would unveil a plan then. It also was unclear whether any Republican short-term debt limit increase would contain new deficit-reduction or other policy proposals that Obama has warned against attaching to any such measure.

Republican Tea Party fiscal conservatives precipitated the crisis by demanding that Obama's healthcare reform law be delayed or curtailed in exchange for approving the funding of government operations and raising the debt ceiling.

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