WASHINGTON - President Obama is stepping up his personal engagement with lawmakers over the government shutdown, setting up private meetings at the White House in an effort to make progress in deadlocked budget negotiations.
The president "believes Congress will do the right thing" and vote to end the partial government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling by the Oct. 17 deadline, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Obama met with House Democrats on Wednesday and is scheduled to meet separately with House Republicans and Senate Democrats on Thursday.
The president and congressional Democrats continue to advocate for a stopgap funding bill to reopen government and a debt ceiling increase with no preconditions attached.
Obama also took his message to local television viewers, speaking with anchors from stations in Washington, D.C., Richmond, Va., Philadelphia and Tampa - markets with large numbers of government employees and military personnel.
He told WTVR of Richmond: "The reason we're where we are right now is because Speaker Boehner, the House Republicans, thought that they could get leverage in budget negotiations or defund the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare - by taking us to the brink."
Congressional Republicans led by Speaker John Boehner continue to seek an agreement for broader budget negotiations in exchange for their votes for either.
The shutdown, which entered its ninth day Wednesday, began when Democrats rejected Republican efforts to defund or delay the president's health care law as part of the stopgap measure to keep the government running after the fiscal year ended Sept. 30.
Republicans have moved on from their original demand and are instead seeking an avenue for budget talks that could result in long-term agreements to raise the debt ceiling and reduce the deficit. Democrats say they are open to such talks, but only after the shutdown ends and the default threat is off the table.
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Boehner rejected Obama's invitation for all 232 House Republicans to meet on Thursday, instead selecting a team of 18 "negotiators" made up of elected leaders and committee chairmen.
"It is our hope that this will be a constructive meeting and that the president finally recognizes Americans expect their leaders to be able to sit down and resolve their differences," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.
The House and Senate are scheduled to be in session Saturday, a sign that lawmakers do not anticipate a breakthrough before the weekend.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has scheduled a key procedural vote for Saturday to allow the Senate to debate a bill to suspend the debt ceiling through 2014. Reid will need all 54 Democrats as well as six Republicans, to vote with him to clear the hurdle.
The two parties remain far apart on how to end the shutdown and avert an unprecedented default. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will testify Thursday in the Senate on the economic ramifications if Congress fails to act.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., met privately with Boehner on Wednesday, during which Pelosi said she offered to provide the votes of all 200 House Democrats if the speaker would put the Senate-passed stopgap bill on the floor. "We were disappointed the Speaker did not take 'yes' for an answer," Pelosi said in a statement.
After the Democratic meeting at the White House, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Obama emphasized he is open to any discussion about the budget - once the government is reopened.
"He's simply saying we can talk while the government is open" Hoyer said. "The government doesn't need to be shut."
Pelosi added, "The debt ceiling needs to be lifted, and they are not getting any concession for that."
The White House issued a statement saying, "The President and the House Democrats reaffirmed their shared belief that we cannot let one faction of the Republicans in the House demand a ransom for Congress doing its job and paying the bills we have already incurred."