WASHINGTON — With no serious negotiations in sight, a divided Congress slipped closer to a double-barreled fiscal crisis Thursday as House Republican leaders tried to shift the budget dispute to a fight over raising the government's borrowing limit.
Trying to round up votes from a reluctant rank-and-file, House Republicans said they would agree to increase the debt limit to avert a mid October default only if Democrats accepted a list of Republican priorities, including a one-year delay of the health care law, a tax overhaul and a broad rollback of environmental regulations.
At the same time, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio signaled he was not ready to abandon a spending fight that could shut down the federal government as soon as Tuesday. Asked whether he would put a stopgap spending bill to a vote free of Republican policy prescriptions, he answered, "I do not see that happening."
President Barack Obama fired back with a broadside of his own.
"No Congress before this one has ever, ever, in history been irresponsible enough to threaten default, to threaten an economic shutdown, to suggest America not pay its bills, just to try to blackmail a president into giving them some concessions on issues that have nothing to do with a budget," Obama said before a friendly audience in suburban Washington.
The bitter back-and-forth was seen as increasing the possibility of a shutdown or default.
The Senate faces a critical vote today to cut off debate on legislation to keep the government open. If Democrats muster 60 votes, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada will move to strip out House language that guts the health care law and pass a stopgap spending bill that funds the government through Nov. 15, without Republican policy prescriptions.