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Walden sees some progress in budget talk

Walden sees some progress in budget talk

By Andrew Clevenger / The Bulletin

Published: October 11. 2013 4:00AM PST

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WASHINGTON — A meeting between President Barack Obama and House Republican leadership at the White House Thursday ended without a big breakthrough on the budget impasse that has left the federal government shut down for 10 days.

Led by Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, 20 Republican House members, including Greg Walden, R-Hood River, met with Obama, offering to raise the debt ceiling for six weeks in exchange for a promise to negotiate on spending levels and deficit reduction.

While the president didn’t accept the offer, he didn’t reject it either, Walden said after the 90-minute meeting broke up.

“(President Obama) is open to having his team meet and talk to our team about where we might be able to go on negotiations, which is frankly what we’ve been after for a very long time, to open up negotiations with the administration," he said. “From that perspective, I think we made progress."

Vice President Joe Biden, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors also sat in on the meeting, according to the White House.

Boehner and House leadership floated the idea of a six-week extension of the debt ceiling, pushing it back to around Nov. 22. Officials estimate the government late next week will reach its current borrowing limit on debt it has already incurred. The GOP proposal did not include an agreement to reopen the government, which has been shut down since Oct. 1, when the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate could not agree to a continuing resolution that would keep government operations funded.

Initially, House GOP members demanded concessions relating to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, including a delay of the individual mandate, a key provision that requires individuals to secure health insurance or face financial penalties.

Walden said earlier Thursday that everything was still on the table, but that discussions were focused primarily on cutting spending and reducing the deficit, the main drivers of the debt ceiling.

“What we’re saying is, let’s address these bigger problems," he told The Bulletin. “To just draw a line and say I won’t negotiate is just not productive."

Walden said he left Thursday’s meeting encouraged.

“This is the first time we had this level of conversation with the president, and it was useful; it was helpful," he said.

Walden said he shares his constituents’ frustration with the shutdown.

“It was never our plan to have a government shutdown," he said, adding that the House has passed multiple bills that would fund certain parts of the government, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration. Thursday, the House also passed a measure that would fund border security.

So far, the Senate has only passed one of the House’s mini spending bills, one that would authorize death benefits to the families of military members who are killed. The president signed the bill on Thursday.

Democrats, including the president, have called upon House leadership to allow a vote on a “clean" continuing resolution, one that would fund the government at its current level without any significant changes. To this point, GOP leadership has not brought a clean continuing resolution to the House floor for a vote.

Walden refused to say Thursday whether he would support a clean continuing resolution, saying it didn’t make sense to show your cards when in the midst of a negotiation.

Thursday’s meeting, which Walden described as “a discussion to have a negotiation," represents a little bit of a breakthrough, but there is still much to be ironed out, he said.

“There’s an opportunity here to make some progress, which I know the American people want us all to do," he said.