Obama and Republicans remain poles apart as twin crises loom

Days from the first deadline in a series of cascading budget crises, President Barack Obama and his Republican opponents remain far apart on resolving their latest stand-off over the reach of government, symbolised by his health reforms.

Mr Obama travelled to nearby Maryland to address a campaign-style rally in support of his health law, the core of which is launched next Tuesday. “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” he said to huge cheers.

About an hour earlier, John Boehner, the Republican House speaker, emerged from a meeting on Capitol Hill with his members to reiterate his party’s price for passing a new budget and approving fresh government borrowings.

Even by the standards of multiple confrontations between Mr Obama and Republicans since they took control of the House of Representatives in early 2011, this stand-off appears intractable, with no clear path forward.

“All of this would be funny if it weren’t so crazy,” Mr Obama said in a sharp attack on Republicans in his Maryland speech.

Congress must pass a new budget by October 1 or trigger a partial government shutdown. A fortnight or so later, on October 17, the US Treasury says it will be near to running out of money to pay its bills.

The stakes are high, with the threat of multiple government agencies being forced to close their doors, and more seriously, the possibility the US government could run out of money to meet its debts.

In the next step in a complicated legislative dance, the Democratic-controlled Senate will strip out the provision in the budget inserted by the Republican House to gut funding for Obamacare.

Mr Boehner said Republicans had some “options” available to get some of their favoured policy proposals through with the budget, but he did not detail what they were.

The outcome of the budget negotiations will influence Republican tactics for handling the second, and more serious, deadline on the debt ceiling.

The Republicans have announced a laundry list of conservative causes as a condition of their support for approving new US government borrowings.

On top of a 12-month delay of Obamacare, the demands include approval for the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the US, a rollback of the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases and tighter means testing of health benefits for the elderly.

Mr Obama repeated his pledge not to negotiate on the debt ceiling, as it would imperil the “full faith and credit” of the US, to which Mr Boehner replied: “Well, sorry, it just doesn’t work that way.”

Mr Obama and Mr Boehner, nominally the lead negotiators, have had no substantive conversations for weeks on either the budget or the debt ceiling.

“What the House (Republicans) want is extortion, not negotiation, concessions that can’t pass (Congress) in exchange for not blowing up the economy,” said Dan Pfeiffer, Mr Obama’s senior adviser.

The debate has been intensified by an angry Republican split over how far to push the campaign to stop the health law, and Democratic discomfort over further spending cuts in the budget.

The theatre reached a fever pitch on Wednesday with the Tea Party-favourite Ted Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, holding the floor for more than 21 hours to deliver a jeremiad against the health law.

However, Mr Cruz and Mike Lee, of Utah, were accused by fellow Republicans of running a “show” for their supporters when they blocked a Senate vote on the budget late on Thursday.

“It’s not the Republican side that’s asking to stall,” said Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican. “We only have two Republican senators who are asking to push this off.”

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