In a statement on Monday, the president indicated a willingness to negotiate, but only if the immediate threat of shutdown is removed.
President Obama stressed Monday that he wants to negotiate with House Republicans over the budget. But as a precondition for those talks, he wants the threat of a government shutdown to be taken off the table.
House Republicans have been trying--unsuccessfully, so far--to use both of these possible economic disasters to wring concessions out of the White House.
In return for passing a temporary spending measure for a few weeks, they want the launch of Obamacare delayed for a year until 2015 and the removal of a new tax on medical devices to help fund the program. Without a deal of some kind in place by midnight on Monday, several government agencies will begin to furlough employees and close offices.
But these demands are extremely lopsided compared to what the White House would get in return. Obama would need to delay his signature program in order to keep the government open for less than two months, at which point he might have to give away much more simply to keep the government open.
Obama stressed that crucial nuance in remarks inside the Oval Office on Monday.
"I am not only open to, but eager to have negotiations around a long-term budget that makes sure that we’re investing in middle class families," the president said, indicating that these talks could involve reforms to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security that will start to fuel the national debt to crippling levels over the next several years.
If the president accedes to the GOP on temporary spending, he might have to give up much more when the country reaches the limits of its borrowing capacity on Oct. 17. Unless Congress raises the $16.7 trillion debt limit, the government would likely default and possibly tumble into a crippling recession.
To drive his point home, Obama added that he "can’t have any meaningful negotiations under the cloud of potential default." This is the sign of good faith that the president requires in order to meet with Republicans. It also addresses the attack by Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) that the president would rather negotiate with Iran and Russia than them.
The administration is going to repeat this argument … a lot.
"What they want now--and this is just a two-month continuation of government funding--they want to delay Obamacare for a year in exchange for that," Dan Pfeiffer, a senior White House adviser, told MSNBC. "What happens two month from now? What happens after that?"
The president said he expects to talk with congressional leaders on Monday, as the House decides whether to accept a clean bill passed by the Democratic majority Senate last week that funds the government through Nov. 15. The initial response by the House was to pass on Sunday a bill that delayed Obamacare and ended the medical device tax, after having initially required that the programs under the 2010 Affordable Care Act be defunded.
There are signs that Republicans might choose to cave--and pass a third measure to keep the government open without postponing Obamacare.
"Now, it’s imperative that we fund the government, get on with the business of government," Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) told CNN shortly before a Monday meeting of the Republican caucus. Dent said he believes that--even without any Obamacare stipulations--"there are over 218 votes, a bipartisan vote to fund the government in that matter."