Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) speaks to the media after meeting with President Obama and fellow congressional leaders at the White House in Washington on October 2, 2013. The Democrats and Republicans have failed to reach a decision on the budget bill forcing a second day of government shutdown. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has told colleagues he will allow a House vote on raising the federal debt limit, GOP House members said Thursday.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said he will run out of the ability to juggle the nation's bills by Oct. 17, setting up the possibility of the first default in U.S. history -- something far more serious than the current government shutdown that resulted from a standoff over funding the government at current spending levels absent a 2014 fiscal budget.
The government shut down Tuesday, the day the new fiscal year began.
Citing members of Congress whose names it did not report, The New York Times said Boehner has told members he would be willing to abandon the so-called Hastert rule in the interest of preventing the United States from defaulting on its obligations. The Hastert rule -- a practice followed by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. -- generally kept the full House from voting on any issue that did not have the support of a majority of House Republicans.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, told the Times the speaker "always, always prefers to pass legislation with a strong Republican majority," but also accepts that "a default would be disastrous for our economy."
"He's also been clear that a 'clean' debt hike cannot pass the House," Steel said. "That's why the president and Senate Democrats should drop their 'no negotiations' stance, and work with us on a plan to raise the debt limit in a responsible way, with spending cuts and reforms to get our economy moving again and create jobs."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Boehner sang pretty much the same tune last month in regard to the continuing resolution.
Reid suggested House Tea Party conservatives forced Boehner to change his mind and press forward with efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, Roll Call reported.
"I know that that's not the path that [Boehner] preferred," Reid said. "I know that because we met the first week we came back in September, and he told me what he wanted was a clean CR at the $988 [billion] number. We didn't like it, but we negotiated. That was our compromise.
"I didn't twist his arm. He twisted mine a little bit to get that number," Reid said. "That was a compromise. Now, he refused to let his own party vote because he was afraid to stand up to something he originally agreed to."
Roll Call said the $988 billion figure in the proposed continuing resolution would keep spending flat.
Also Thursday, President Barack Obama said the government shutdown is reckless, but an economic shutdown because the debt ceiling isn't raised would be far worse.
"As reckless as a government shutdown [would be], an economic shutdown resulting from default would be dramatically worse," Obama said during a speech at M. Luis Construction Co., a female- and minority-owned company in Rockville, Md., about 15 miles from Washington.
"Unlike past shutdowns," Obama said of the current shutdown that began Tuesday, "this one has nothing to do with deficits, or spending or budgets. ... This whole thing is about one thing: The Republican obsession of dismantling of the Affordable Care Act" and denying affordable healthcare to millions of Americans.
"All the shutdown is doing is making it harder for ordinary Americans to get by," Obama said. "They [Congress] need to move on to the actual business of governing."
But, he said, as terrible as the shutdown is, the possibility of defaulting on debt already incurred would be worse, resulting in an economic shutdown.
"There will be no negotiations over this," Obama said of raising the debt limit. "The American people are not pawns in some political game."
In a government shutdown, Obama said, Social Security checks still go out while in an economic shutdown, checks won't go out on time.
In a government shutdown, Americans face economic hardship, Obama said, but an economic shutdown would risk falling pensions and home values and rising interest rates that would put the country into a "bad recession."
"It would be the height of irresponsibility," he said.
"You don't get to demand some ransom in exchange" for keeping the government and economy running and "doing your most basic job," Obama said.
The last debt ceiling crisis in 2011 rocked the economy and led to a downgrade of the United States' credit rating.
In a Treasury Department report issued Thursday, Lew said a default would be unprecedented and potentially catastrophic. He said credit markets could freeze, the value of the dollar could plunge, and U.S. interest rates could skyrocket, potentially resulting in a financial crisis and recession that could replicate the 2008 recession or worse.
Obama said the government could reopen quickly if Boehner would allow members to "vote their conscience" on a bill free of strings that already passed the Senate.
"My simple message is this: Call a vote. Call a vote," Obama said. "Put it on the floor and let every individual member of Congress make up their own minds."
"It should be that simple," he said.