Updated 12:23 p.m. | Speaker John A. Boehner is offering a six-week debt limit hike without reopening the government to President Barack Obama in a bid to jump-start stalled budget negotiations.
"What we're going to do is offer the president the ability to move a temporary increase in the debt ceiling [and] an agreement to go to conference on the budget for his willingness to sit down and discuss with us a way forward to reopen the government and start to deal with America's pressing problems," the Ohio Republican said after meeting with his conference to discuss the plan.
The White House continues to insist, however, that Republicans agree to reopen the government without partisan riders or concessions before negotiations begin.
But the plan to pass a clean debt ceiling increase is the first breakthrough since the government shut down Oct. 1. And it appeared to have early support from conservatives.
Even tea party leader Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., seemed open to the idea. "Well I think if that gets us to where we need to be, it may be something we need to consider, because the one thing we won't do is put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk. It's foolish, and I don't think that's going to happen," she said.
Some conservatives, meanwhile, have continued to push this morning for attaching some GOP demands to even a short-term debt limit increase.
President Barack Obama, who will meet with the GOP leadership at 4:35 p.m. today, has indicated he would sign a short-term measure provided it did not have partisan concessions added on.
Boehner urged the president to open negotiations.
"It's time for leadership, it's time for these negotiations and this conversation has to begin," Boehner said, "and I would hope that the president would look at this as an opportunity and a good-faith effort, on our part, to move halfway, halfway to what he commanded, in order to have these conversations begin."
Boehner demurred when asked by a reporter whether he was prepared to reopen the government along with passage of a short-term debt ceiling increase.
"That's the conversation we're going to have with the president today," he said. "I don't want to put anything on the table, I don't want to take anything off the table, that's why we want to have this conversation."
He also acknowledged that the proposed debt limit extension wouldn't prevent another bitter fight six weeks from now.
"Clearly we could end up in the same place and we don't want to," Boehner said. "I think the president wants to deal with America's pressing problems just as much as we do, but in order to deal with these pressing problems we have got to sit down and have a conversation."
A White House aide reiterated Thursday that negotiations are contingent on Republicans ending the shutdown.
"Once Republicans in Congress act to remove the threat of default and end this harmful government shutdown, the President will be willing to negotiate on a broader budget agreement to create jobs, grow the economy, and put our fiscal house in order," the aide said in a statement. "While we are willing to look at any proposal Congress puts forward to end these manufactured crises, we will not allow a faction of the Republicans in the House to hold the economy hostage to its extraneous and extreme political demands. Congress needs to pass a clean debt limit increase and a funding bill to reopen the government."
The prospect of the GOP playing with default has started to unsettle financial markets and major GOP donors, and several major conservative groups have pushed the party to focus its fight on the continuing resolution funding the government instead.
Stocks were soaring on the offer Thursday morning, with the Dow Jones up over 200 points in its early hours.
A vote on the measure was looking likely for Friday, assuming Republicans stick with the plan following their meeting with the president.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the Rules Committee could be meeting on the legislation as soon as this afternoon. Bishop said the strategy clearly had to change. "What I see it is, looking back over the last nine days, what we're doing doesn't work. What the Senate is insisting upon doesn't work. So somewhere you got to change something," he said.
But not everyone in the GOP was sold.
Rep. Steve King of Iowa said he couldn't support the plan at this point.
"The way I understand it is that it's a promise to look at entitlements. Well, a promise to look at something is nothing," he said, adding that while there's a "whole series of different perspectives," the "tone" inside the conference is to be unified.
Even if Republicans lose a number of Republican votes, Democrats might help the GOP push the measure over the passage threshold.
Rep. John B. Larson, D-Conn., signaled that Democrats probably could support the six-week debt limit increase, but he cautioned that “the devil is in the details.”
“It’s hard to comment on a civil war when you’re watching it in front of you, and you’re watching them self-destruct, but by the same token there’s a larger interest here, and that’s the country,” Larson said.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., predicted Democrats would vote for a debt limit increase if it's clean.
"My position, and I think the vast majority of the caucus, and I think the president's position, is that anything that is clean, we'll support. Six weeks is not adequate, obviously, but it's better than nothing, it'd better than default," he said.
Democrats reacted with dismay, however, that the GOP still hasn't agreed to reopen the government while negotiations take place.
"There's no reason why we cannot open the government and put people in this nation at their ease with regard to their jobs, their paychecks, their health services, their educational services," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. "They are continuing to hold people hostage, they should not do that. I think that, you know, they're going to look at the debt ceiling and maybe come to Jesus on the fact that you can't throw this nation off the fiscal cliff."
DeLauro, meanwhile, noted Republicans could always change their minds.
"We'll see what they come out with. It could change at any moment depending on, you know, what they have for breakfast," she said.