Social Security Administration: Debt ceiling fight puts checks at risk

Oct. 7, 2013 at 8:58 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- President Obama challenged U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to call an immediate vote on a no-strings spending bill to end the weeklong government shutdown.

"If Republicans and Speaker Boehner [are] saying there are not enough votes, then they should prove it. Let the bill go to the floor, and let's see what happens," Obama said Monday during a visit to the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters, repeating a challenge he issued last week. "Just vote. Let every member of Congress vote their conscience. They can determine whether or not they want to shut the government down."

Boehner said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" he won't bring up bills to reopen the government or raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agree to trim the deficit.

Boehner also said the votes weren't there to pass a short-gap funding bill to reopen government without Republican priorities or to pass a clean bill to raise the debt limit, which Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned would be breached Oct. 17.

The speaker's comments marked the first time he linked standoffs over funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. He previously described the fight as centering on GOP demands to delay or dismantle parts of the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare, in exchange for funding the government.

Meanwhile, the Social Security Administration has begun warning the public full benefits may not be forthcoming if the debt ceiling isn't raised, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The agency is notifying beneficiaries that "unlike a federal shutdown which has no impact on the payment of Social Security benefits, failure to raise the debt ceiling puts Social Security benefits at risk," a person familiar with the agency directive told the Journal.

"Our employees started receiving questions from the public, so the agency worked with Treasury to provide an answer they could use when asked about the debt ceiling by the public," a Social Security Administration spokesman said.

Obama, commenting about the verbal jousting on Sunday's talk shows, said he heard "that Congress doesn't have the capacity to end this shutdown. The truth of the matter is, there are enough Republican and Democratic votes in the House of Representatives right now to end the shutdown immediately with no partisan strings attached."

Obama said he had a "very strong suspicion ... that there are enough votes there. And the reason that Speaker Boehner hasn't called a vote on it is because he's doesn't, apparently, want to see the government shutdown end at the moment unless he's able to extract concessions that don't have anything to do with the budget."

During his visit to FEMA, Obama said about 86 percent of the agency's workforce has been furloughed because of the government shutdown that began Tuesday.

"[There's] no reason that there has to be a shutdown in order for the kinds of negotiations Speaker Boehner says he wants to proceed," Obama said. "Hold a vote. Call a vote right now, and let's see what happens."

Obama also challenged Congress to raise the debt ceiling next week, "so the Treasury can pay the bills that Congress has already spent."

"This is something routine. It's been done more than 40 times since Ronald Reagan was president," the president said. "It has never before been used in the kind of ways that the Republicans are talking about using it right now. We can't [threaten] an economic catastrophe in the midst of budget negotiations."

"So authorize the treasury to pay America's bills. Pass a budget. End the government shutdown, pay our bills and prevent an economic shutdown," Obama said. "And as soon as that happens, I'm eager and ready to sit down and negotiate with Republicans on a whole range of issues."

Obama said he was willing to negotiate, despite what Republicans have said.

"What I've said is that I cannot do that under the threat that if Republicans don't get 100 percent of their way they're going to either shut down the government or they are going to default on America's debt, so that America, for the first time in history, does not pay its bills," Obama said. "That is not something I will do. We're not going to establish that pattern."

In the Senate, the Democrats are expected to push to raise the nation's debt ceiling without restrictions this week, sources told Politico.

Senate Democrats also are expected to turn up public pressure for a year-long increase, the Washington publication's sources said Monday.

Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to take the procedural steps necessary to force the Senate to consider a clean increase of the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling, Politico reported. Depending on when Reid acts, the first procedural vote could occur by the end of the week.

The length of the extension is still being debated among top Democrats, but sources indicated Reid was likely to push for an increase through the 2014 elections.

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