WASHINGTON -- Republican House leaders Thursday offered the president and Senate far less than they want in the ongoing financial standoff, presenting a six-week hike of the debt limit, but no deal to reopen the shuttered federal government.
President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats have repeatedly argued that they will not negotiate with the GOP on the budget until the government is reopened and the House stops using the $16.7 trillion debt limit as a lever to extract concessions. The limit is expected to be reached Oct. 17, but the House bill would push the debt ceiling back to around Thanksgiving.
"What we want to do is offer the president today the ability to move a temporary increase in the debt ceiling, an agreement to go to conference on the budget, for his willingness to sit down and discuss with us a way forward to reopen the government, and start to deal with America's pressing problems," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters on Capitol Hill.
"I would hope that the president will look at this as an opportunity and a good-faith effort on our part to move halfway, halfway to what he's demanding in order to have these conversations," he continued.
Several lawmakers said the debt bill could move as soon as Friday if Obama agrees to open up talks on other topics.
Yet reaction from the White House was not very positive, although press secretary Jay Carney said that if a clean debt ceiling bill actually reaches the president's desk, Obama would sign it.
Still, Carney reiterated the administration position that the White House doesn't see the debt ceiling being raised or the government being opened as any sort of concession, but as part of Congress' job.
"Our position is clear: they ought to turn on the lights, they ought to pay our bills," Carney said. "The logic here is that they would harm the American economy and the American people in order to try to extract concessions from the president and their counterparts on Capitol Hill. That's an unsustainably bad proposition."
Similarly, Senate Democrats did not seem impressed by the deal.
"Republicans may let one hostage go, but they are keeping a gun to the head of the other, while reserving the right to kidnap the first one again in a few weeks," an aide to Senate leadership told HuffPost on background, because the House's formal legislation has yet to be released.
It remains unclear if the Senate would go along with a short-term bill. Democrats introduced a measure in the upper chamber that would extend the debt limit for more than a year.
Ahead of a Thursday afternoon meeting between two-dozen Republicans and the White House, one Republican agreed that all the proposal does is essentially move the goal posts.
"We haven't changed our position, only the timeline," said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.). "There won't be a vote on a temporary extension of the debt limit unless the president agrees this afternoon to sit down and talk with us."
Yet even GOP reaction to the House plan seemed mixed coming out of the Republicans' closed-door meeting Thursday morning. After leaders presented the plan to members, many echoed Boehner in saying it was a show of good faith to the White House. But hard-line conservatives like Iowa Rep. Steve King said he was not "enthusiastic" about the deal, and others said they would only back the bill if the president pledges to begin negotiations on broader fiscal issues.
Although a half-dozen lawmakers leaving the meeting said the House's proposed debt-ceiling hike has no riders, The Wall Street Journal reported there was one possible wrinkle that would permanently ban the sorts of "extraordinary measures" that Treasury secretaries have long used to keep bills paid during debt limit debates.
The United States actually began brushing up against the debt limit in May, and since then the Treasury has essentially been borrowing from itself and raising pension funds to meet obligations. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said that while he thought the House bill was "clean," he was concerned about how it deals with the measures Treasury has already taken. A six-week measure would add about $90 billion to the debt, but undoing all the steps taken going back to May could make the tab more like $300 billion, he said. "If it says a date certain [six weeks], how do you take into account reimbursement of the federal government and our creditors for the extraordinary measures that the Treasury Department has been using since May?" he said.
With Carney repeating the position that the president will not negotiate on opening the government, it seemed unlikely that the White House meeting would prove fruitful.
However, if Boehner's offer of a conference committee comes through, negotiations with the White House might not be required. Congress has the ability to work out its differences on its own through such a committee, with members from both chambers sitting down to craft a spending plan, as they have so far failed to do.
This is a developing story and has been updated.