The latest White House strategy in the ongoing budget confrontation with House Republicans is to escalate its attacks, but the gambit seems to be hardening the opposition instead of softening it.
President Barack Obama's current target is House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has been criticized by the president for blocking a solution. Obama says the speaker could end the political crisis by allowing a House vote on a simple measure to raise the debt ceiling. White House strategists say there is a clear majority, which includes a huge number of Democrats and a few Republicans, for that course of action in the House.
But Boehner said this is nonsense. He insists that there aren't enough votes in the House unless key provisions of the President's health care law are defunded or delayed, or other budget concessions are made – an approach the White House has rejected.
"The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit," Boehner told ABC News Sunday. "And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us."
Boehner added: "The nation's credit is at risk because of the administration's refusal to sit down and have a conversation."
White House officials were having none of it. "That flies in the face of all the math and the public statements of GOP members," said senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer on Twitter. "Either he is all wrong or all his members are lying." White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called for a vote and said on Twitter: "If he's right, why not prove it?"
Administration officials say the government's borrowing authority will run out in mid-October unless Congress agrees to increase the debt ceiling. Obama says there will be no negotiation and he wants the debt ceiling to be increased without delay and without preconditions. Boehner wants all sides to talk about budget issues first, and he is getting more combative. "It's time for us to stand and fight," Boehner told ABC.
Boehner is dealing with a confrontational conservative faction in his caucus that won't accept compromise on the current government shutdown or the debt ceiling unless Obama's health care law is defunded or otherwise decimated. If Boehner goes too far toward the Democrats and the White House, his job as speaker could be in jeopardy.
A senior Republican strategist with close ties to Capitol Hill sympathizes with Boehner's plight. But he says the Republicans should back off from their insistence that Obamacare be eliminated because it's a battle they can't win right now.
He also faulted Obama and his team. "What the White House is doing is demanding total capitulation," the strategist says. "That's very nice when it comes to winning a long campaign, but that's not what governing is all about." Obama is making a mistake by holding onto a "campaign mentality" and trying to "demonize the opposition," the strategist argues.
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.