President Obama's approach to the partial government shutdown can be summarized in two words: Stay tough.
Democratic strategists say even though Obama's natural inclination is to compromise, he can't give in to Republicans who demand big changes in the Affordable Care Act, his signature domestic initiative, as a condition for funding the government, or he would look weak and feckless.
"There's one red line he's drawn and had to draw," says political scientist Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution. "He can't possibly agree to negotiate anything that goes to the heart of the Affordable Care Act. That would knock the props out of his presidency."
Galston, a former senior White House adviser to President Bill Clinton, told me, "It's clear that he will not be part of a negotiation when he feels he has a gun to his head. That sort of behavior should not be rewarded."
To do otherwise would undermine Obama's credibility as a leader both at home and abroad, Democratic strategists say, so he can't flinch.
But this hard-headed approach doesn't mean that, after the crisis over the government shutdown has passed, Obama can't negotiate at all. White House strategists say there are peripheral areas where Obama could compromise, such as repealing a tax on medical devices that is now included in the health care law. But Galston says that anything that would suggest less than full commitment by Obama to a law that is "the core of his domestic agenda" – such as defunding or delaying the health care overhaul – would and should be a non-starter.
Now that the shutdown has begun, the main effort of the White House is to blame the GOP for Washington's dysfunction, with special scorn for Republicans allied with the conservative tea party. "One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn't get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of the election," Obama told reporters Monday.
"Keeping the people's government open is not a concession to me. Keeping vital services running and hundreds of thousands of Americans on the job is not something you give to the other side. It's our basic responsibility."
He urged the Republican-controlled House to follow the Democrat-controlled Senate's lead and pass a measure "funding our government without making extraneous and controversial demands in the process, the same away other Congresses have for more than 200 years." The president reaffirmed that he is not going to make concessions on the health care law.
"I shouldn't have to offer anything," Obama told NPR News. "They're not doing me a favor by paying for things that they have already approved for the government to do. That's part of their basic function of government. That's not doing me a favor. That's doing what the American people sent them here to do – carrying out their responsibilities."
Obama added that progress won't be made and compromises won't be possible "if one party to this conversation says that the only way that they come to the table is if they get 100 percent of what they want. If they don't, they threaten to burn down the house."
Obama and administration officials said that, while essential services will continue such as air traffic control and sending out Social Security checks, there would be many negative results of the shutdown. Among them, Obama said, will be the closing of national parks and monuments and the furloughing of several hundred thousand federal government workers. The shutdown also will "throw a wrench into the gears of our economy at a time when those gears have gained some traction," Obama argued.
With no end in sight to the donnybrook over the shutdown, still another big confrontation is looming. This will be a fight over raising the debt ceiling when the government's borrowing authority is expected to run out in mid-October. It's a battle that promises to be just as difficult as the current one.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.