US President Barack Obama has said he's willing to hold talks with Republicans "about anything," but first the House must approve a bill to reopen the government. The comments came on day eight of the shutdown.
Speaking at a White House press conference on Tuesday, the US president called on House Republicans to vote on a bill to approve government funding, thus allowing the eight-day shutdown to come to an end. Only then would he begin talks with Republicans about topics which had led to the political impasse, including his controversial healthcare law and the country's $16.7 trillion (12.3 trillion euros) debt ceiling.
"I'm happy to talk with [Republican House Speaker John Boehner] and other Republicans about anything," President Obama told White House reporters.
He called on his political opponents the House of Representatives - the Republican-led lower house of Congress - to stop issuing excuses and to vote on a "clean bill," which could pass as early as Tuesday.
"Let's lift these threats from our families and our businesses and let's get to work," said Obama.
According to US news broadcaster CNN, at least 218 representatives in the House - 22 of which are Republicans - are ready to pass such a measure, which would pass the 217 threshold needed for a majority.
Boehner rejects 'unconditional surrender'
During the press conference, Obama charged Boehner with allowing an extreme faction within his party to hold the country at ransom, a strategy which was not only inappropriate but economically irresponsible.
Soon after Obama's public statement on Tuesday, Boehner hit back by saying the president had demanded "an unconditional surrender" from the Republicans before talks. The Republican House Speaker insisted talks would have to take place before he would call a vote on the House floor.
"At times like this, the American people expect their leaders to sit down and have a conversation," Boehner told reporters, adding: "There's going to be a negotation."
The debt ceiling misnomer
Obama had also hit back at previous accusations from House Speaker Boehner, issued earlier on Tuesday, in his initial comments.
Following a mid-morning telephone call with the president, Boehner had told reporters that the demands of Obama and Democratic Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid amounted to "refusing to negotiate" and were "putting our country on a pretty dangerous path."
"There has never been a president in our history who didn't negotiate over the debt limit," Boehner said.
Obama dismissed these charges, instead arguing the semantics of the term "raising the debt ceiling." Proponents of budget cuts tend to refer to this as taking on new debt, while Obama and many Democrats portray it as meeting existing obligations - when it's a mixture of both, meeting old repayments at least in part with fresh loans.
Obama said it was the job of Congress to allow the Treasury to pay back debt.
"House Republicans do not get to demand ransom for doing their basic jobs," Obama said, adding that their refusal to negotiate was hurting the country's credibility and could trigger another economic crisis.
"This is our word, this is our good name, this is real," he said.
On October 1, the US government closed all non-essential operations after Congress failed to approved funding through mid-December over a political impasse. Republican members of the House of Representatives had attempted to add on measures to the original bill which would have delayed the implementation of Obama's signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, and would have repealed a tax on medical devices which brings in an estimated $30 billion (22 billion euros) annually to fund the Act.
The cornerstone of the healthcare law - a website which helps Americans find health coverage - went into effect on October 1 despite the shutdown.
kms/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)
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