The government is headed for Day Six of the federal shutdown, and both sides in Congress say there still aren't any discussions going on about how to change that.
As the days creep by, the crisis is evolving from just a government shutdown to the risk of default on the country's debt when the nation's borrowed cash runs out on Oct. 17. But House Speaker John Boehner is still wrestling with his own Republican conference, and President Barack Obama hasn't budged on his refusal to discuss major changes to his signature health care law as part of a deal to fund the government or raise the debt ceiling.
"Whether it's the president, the vice president, the Senate majority leader, Bill Clinton, or will.i.am -- we need somebody, anybody with a 'D' after his name who is willing to talk, and we have no partner to negotiate with at this point," a top House Republican leadership aide said Saturday.
House GOP aides acknowledge that, at this point, Boehner is likely looking to hold a single House vote that would end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling in one legislative move. But Democrats say that they won't entertain anything of the sort.
"He may be crafting a deal, but we're not interested," a senior Senate Democratic aide said of Boehner.
Democrats say that the stakes are higher than just the current fiscal crisis. Letting Republicans win concessions after threatening to allow a default will mean the country is forever governed from one crisis to the next, they argue.
"The way that you pass policy in this country is at stake," the Democratic aide said.
Instead, Democrats are alleging that Boehner broke a promise to pass a "clean" temporary government funding bill -- a measure that didn't include extra conservative policy priorities like defunding ObamaCare -- if it maintained the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.
Aides said Boehner and Reid met on July 17 to discuss how to keep government funding flowing. Reid agreed to convince Senate Democrats to support maintaining the sequester level of funding -- $988 billion -- and started trying to convince other Democrats to get on board. Liberals in his caucus wanted a higher spending level, $1.042 trillion.
Reid was temporarily accepting the sequester cuts, his chief of staff David Krone wrote in an email that day to another senior Democratic aide, because he knew it would be difficult to force a government shutdown if Republicans were willing to pass a "clean" funding bill at the sequester levels.
It was all downhill from there, according to Reid's office. A week later, after a New York Times story outlined House GOP plans to demand even deeper cuts, Reid's aides asked Boehner's team if they still thought they could pass a clean funding bill. They reassured Reid's office that was the goal.
House leadership aides acknowledge these discussions took place, but say Boehner never said he would pass a clean government funding bill. "Did the speaker ever make a commitment? No," an aide to the speaker told NBC News.
In early September, House Minority Leader Eric Cantor's office told members to expect a vote on government funding the week they returned from August recess. On Sept. 11, they delayed that vote.
On Sept. 12, the four leaders discussed how the House could pass a spending measure that included language to defund the president's health care law. The Senate would then be able to use a procedural mechanism to strip it out before sending it to the president's desk.
But that plan unraveled in the face of conservative opposition. There weren't enough Republican votes to pass the clean government funding bill. The government shut down on Oct. 1.
It will stay that way until at least Monday evening, when the House is slated to return to session. The Senate won't convene on Sunday, and they held no votes during a Saturday session.
That leaves just over a week until Oct. 17, when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says the country will run out of money to pay its debts.
At that point, Democrats believe pressure from the business community, Wall Street and ordinary Americans -- "anyone who doesn't keep their money under a mattress" was how one staffer put it -- will put enough pressure on Republicans.
"Boehner will give at the end of the day," the senior Democratic aide said.
But so far, Republicans aren't giving.
"There is no alternative to default if someone doesn't start talking to someone," the senior House Republican aide said.
Carrie Dann contributed to this report.
First published October 5 2013, 2:11 PM