(Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
Amid cautious optimism after President Barack Obama's conversation with House Speaker John Boehner on the phone, the president Saturday urged Congress to end the government shutdown and that House Republicans increase the debt ceiling to get the economy through the Christmas shopping season.
"It wouldn't be wise, as some suggest, to kick the debt ceiling can down the road for a couple of months, and flirt with a first-ever intentional default right in the middle of the holiday shopping season," Obama said in his weekly address Saturday, referring to a Republican offer for a six-week extension that would also pave the way for re-opening the government.
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers remain furloughed for the 12th day on Saturday, and the nation will exhaust its borrowing authority next Thursday.
Obama put the blame on Republicans, accusing them of potentially damaging the nation's credit rating. "Our government is closed for the first time in 17 years. A political party is risking default for the first time since the 1700s. This is not normal. That's why we have to put a stop to it," he said.
However, the president also said House Republicans' willingness to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government – despite a lack of agreement over the duration of the extension – is a "positive development."
Obama and Boehner spoke on the phone Friday and agreed to find ways to end the partial government shutdown and avert a possible debt default. The president also met Senate Republicans at the White House.
"The two of them agreed that all sides need to keep talking," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters after the call. "It at least looks like there is a possibility of making some progress here."
House Republican leader Eric Cantor also called the meeting with Obama as "very useful." "Hopefully, we will have a clearer path forward," he said.
House Republicans are weighing options after the White House refused to accept a deal that would raise the borrowing limit for six weeks to allow more negotiations over the terms of a budget resolution as well dealing with the broader debt and spending issues.
Both House and Senate are in session this weekend.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed Thursday that the approval rating for Republicans was at an all-time low at 24 percent. In the survey, 70 percent of respondents believed congressional Republicans were putting politics before the nation's good.
Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, told Reuters that while there are no dearth of ideas to get to an agreement, there's a need to find the right combination of them that can pass both Houses of Congress. "I do think it's going to take a few days here to get that right combination, but I'm hopeful we'll get a deal," he was quoted as saying.
Republicans just want to ensure spending cuts, he added. "I want to see the government get opened and I want to see a debt-ceiling solution. But we've got to use this time as well to find some savings and reforms, and we are talking about what savings and reforms we can get people to agree to."