Another day. Another failure to compromise. Another step closer to a government default.
After trading harsh sound bites at dueling news conferences, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, seem no closer to an agreement that would end the government shutdown and avoid a looming government default on Oct. 17, when federal borrowing authority runs out. But while the political situation remains murky, the depth of distrust and bitterness between the main antagonists, and more generally between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, is clearer than ever.
At every opportunity, Obama has been ratcheting up his rhetoric in an attempt to push the GOP away from its hard-line position and capitalize on polls that show Republicans taking the lion's share of blame for the shutdown and the stalemate on raising the debt limit. Obama is scheduled to make his case again in interviews with four local television anchors at the White House Wednesday.
Obama says he won't negotiate on budget issues until Congress funds the government and raises the debt ceiling – even if such steps were short term – and he won't accept Republican-supported preconditions such as defunding his signature health-care law.
The rhetoric has become particularly sharp-edged, reflecting the stakes involved and the frustration on all sides.
Obama told reporters Tuesday that "extreme" GOP legislators were forcing Boehner to take an unrealistic and irresponsible stand that the president compared to a "ransom" – demanding that Obama's health care law be defunded or weakened in exchange for passage of a measure to end the weeklong shutdown. House Republicans "don't get to demand ransom in exchange for doing their jobs," Obama said. "And two of their very basic jobs are passing a budget and making sure that America is paying its bills."
Obama urged the "more extreme parts of the Republican Party [to] stop forcing John Boehner to issue threats about our economy. We can't make extortion routine as part of our democracy. Democracy doesn't function this way."
But Boehner was equally adamant. He told reporters, "As you all know, I had a phone call with the president of the United States this morning. I will say it was a pleasant conversation, although I have to say I was disappointed that the president refused to negotiate.
"When it comes to the debt limit, I agree with the president: We should pay our bills. I didn't come here to shut down the government. I certainly didn't come here to default on our debt. But when it comes to the debt limit, again, over the last 40 years, 27 times the debt limit has been used to carry significant policy changes that would in fact reduce spending and put us on a saner fiscal path. ... We can't raise the debt ceiling without doing something about what's driving us to borrow more money and to live beyond our means."
Boehner said Obama's insistence on negotiating only after the debt ceiling is raised and government is funded amounts to "unconditional surrender by Republicans." He added: "The long and short of it is, there's going to be a negotiation."
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.