With a possible government shutdown in five days, House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday signaled a shift in Republican tactics with the focus now on negotiating a compromise on raising the federal debt ceiling next month instead of a short-term spending plan now.
He and other GOP leaders called on President Barack Obama to negotiate an agreement with them to increase how much the government can borrow to pay its bills in exchange for concessions they seek such as delaying the implementation of Obamacare.
However, Obama later made clear that he rejected any political bartering on the debt ceiling.
"I will not negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America," he said.
It is one of two potential showdowns embroiling Congress as deadlines loom to fund the government before the end of the current fiscal year on Monday, as well as increasing the debt ceiling by October 17.
The Democratic-led Senate is considering a spending plan sent over by the Republican-led House that makes continued government funding contingent on eliminating all money for Obamacare.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says his caucus will restore the funding for the Affordable Care Act, the signature legislation of Obama's first term that was passed by Democrats and upheld by the Supreme Court.
The spending measure would then go back to the House with time running out to act before a shutdown begins on Tuesday.
GOP battle line moving to debt ceiling
At a news conference after meeting with his GOP caucus, Boehner indicated the House might further revise the Senate's version of the spending plan, but he also told reporters that he didn't expect a government shutdown to happen.
Instead, he and other House GOP leaders focused on the debt ceiling, with Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia citing a Bloomberg poll Thursday that showed a strong majority support a compromise on the debt ceiling instead of simply increasing it without spending cuts or other steps.
"They don't want a government shutdown, but they are tired of the debt and they want to make sure that this president sits down and negotiates with us a resolution to this problem," Cantor said. "So we call on the president now to sit down with us, Harry Reid to sit down with us, and let's solve the problem. This plan of more debt and no reform is absolutely unacceptable."
Cantor confirmed that a House proposal to raise the debt ceiling would include a one-year delay in the full implementation of Obamacare, as well as other provisions from measures passed by House Republicans but ignored by the Senate such as building the Keystone oil pipline from Canada.
To Obama, such an offer amounts to trying to "blackmail a president into giving them some concessions on issues that have nothing to do with the budget," he said in a speech in Maryland on Obamacare.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters a one-year delay in implementing Obamacare's individual mandate for people to obtain health insurance would undermine a key provision of the program that prohibits the denial of coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
"The fact is you have to make the system work," Carney said, adding people with pre-existing conditions won't be denied insurance under Obamacare "because of the expansion of the number of people who will be covered and participate in these marketplaces provided by the Affordable Care Act through the individual mandate."
CNN Chief National Correspondent John King said Thursday that focusing on the debt ceiling was where House Republicans "wanted to wage this fight all along."
"They didn't want to get bogged down in the government shutdown fight, but a conservative revolt within the House Republican ranks forced them to get there," King said.
However, some conservative House Republicans emerging from a meeting Thursday with Boehner said they won't simply accept the Senate's version of the spending plan needed to avoid a shutdown. They also expressed reservations about the proposal outlined by Boehner and Cantor for raising the debt ceiling.
Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama said the GOP leadership's plan on the debt ceiling would extend it until after next year's congressional election and include provisions sought by Republicans, but he complained it didn't cut spending enough to satisfy him. Brooks also said the debt ceiling issue should be part of the election debate next year.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said this week the debt ceiling must be raised by October 17, or the government may not have enough money to pay all of its bills.
Analysts warn of severe economic impact in that case. A similar bout of congressional brinksmanship over the debt ceiling in 2011 led to the first-ever downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.
Obama cited that potential harm to a still sluggish recovery on Thursday, saying the world looked to America for economic leadership and stability.
"You don't mess with that," he said to cheers in Maryland.