Republicans bet that Obama is bluffing on debt ceiling

Republicans bet that Obama is bluffing on debt ceiling

House Republicans emerged from an hourlong private meeting on Thursday with a wish list of demands for Democrats and President Barack Obama in return for their approval on a measure to raise the federal government’s borrowing limit.

Among the Republican requests: They want the individual mandate to buy health insurance that was in the 2010 federal health care law delayed for one year. Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Increased offshore oil drilling. More spending cuts.

For months, however, the president and his deputies have said they are not willing to negotiate when it comes to raising the debt limit, which Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said this week must occur by Oct. 17. Not doing so, he said, could cause the federal government to default on spending obligations.

Despite the warnings — House Speaker John Boehner said Obama called him last week to reiterate that there would be no compromise on the debt ceiling — Republican leaders refuse to take Obama at his word. They think he’s bluffing.

“The president says, 'I’m not going to negotiate,'” Boehner told reporters after the meeting with other Republicans on Thursday. “Well, I’m sorry, it just doesn’t work that way.”

The debate over the debt ceiling overlaps with a fight this week over government spending levels which, barring action from Congress by midnight Monday, could result in a government shutdown.

But Republicans seem less concerned with the prospect of a shutdown — Boehner said he does “not see that happening” — than the debt limit deadline.

Senior aides to House Republican leaders say they believe Republicans have enough leverage to force Obama’s hand, and they point to 2011, when Obama’s willingness to negotiate on the debt ceiling led to some of the sharpest federal spending cuts in recent memory. Democrats caved on the debt ceiling then, so why not now?

Republicans also point to a pattern within the Obama administration of delaying parts of the health care law, such as the mandate on corporations to provide health care. On Thursday, Politico reported that the administration would also delay enrollment in part of the exchanges for small businesses.

“This is only fair for us to say that American families should have the delay,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said on Thursday.

With the deadline set by the Treasury Department only weeks away, however, Democrats remain dug in.

“Democrats are not delaying Obamacare,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Tuesday. “We certainly aren't negotiating over the debt limit.”