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Who’s playing games? Boehner puts blame on Dems

Speaker John Boehner cast blame on Democrats for prolonging the shutdown on Friday, but didn't specify a way forward in the Washington stalemate. "This isn't some damn game," Boehner said.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

Speaker John Boehner cast blame on Democrats for prolonging the shutdown on Friday, but didn't specify a way forward in the Washington stalemate. "This isn't some damn game," Boehner said.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to a Republican strategy session on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Speaker John Boehner cast blame on Democrats for prolonging the shutdown on Friday, but didn’t specify a way forward in the Washington stalemate.

Waving a copy of the Wall Street Journal, the speaker cited an anonymous White House official in the paper who indicated “it doesn’t really matter to us” how long the standoff occurs as long as the administration prevails.

“This isn’t some damn game,” Boehner said in a Friday press conference with Republican leaders. “The American people don’t want their government shut down and neither do I. All we’re asking for is to sit down and have a discussion and…reopen the government and bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare.”

As day four of the shutdown gets under way, Republicans are continuing their strategy of passing small piecemeal legislation to partially fund the government, announcing 10 new bills on Friday funding agencies like FEMA and the National Weather Service  as well as food programs for impoverished Americans. The White House and Senate Democratic leaders have said they will not support any of them, demanding Republicans pass a clean continuing resolution that would reopen the government entirely. Republican leaders say that won’t happen, although a small group of 20 House Republicans have said they’d vote for a clean CR if Boehner brought it to the floor. That, with full Democratic support, would constitute a majority. The White House reiterated its opposition to any such “piecemeal” funding bills with another statement released around the time of Boehner’s press conference. “Instead of opening up a few Government functions, the House of Representatives should re-open all of the Government,” the Office of Management and Budget Friday statement read.

At this point, the shutdown fight has into a kind of meta-debate. Whereas the lead-up to the shutdown was characterized by apocalyptic warnings on the right that this is the last chance to stop Obamacare before the government Leviathan becomes permanent, the new phase is mostly about mitigating the effects of the shutdown itself and demanding negotiations as an end unto itself.

“It’s hard to talk about strategy when the other side won’t conference,” Congressman Michael Burgess said after Friday morning’s House GOP meeting. “It’s as simple as that.”

One frustrating problem for Republicans is that the Affordable Care Act is still being funded during the shutdown. That puts a kind of cap on the Republican strategy of passing a piecemeal set of funding measures: even if they essentially reconstituted the entire government with individual bills, Obamacare would still be around. So why not just fund the whole government?

But there is another deadline that could force a resolution to the conflict: the debt limit. On Oct. 17, the Treasury will be unable to pay its creditors unless Congress votes to raise the debt ceiling, setting off a financial catastrophe. With the shutdown unlikely to subside soon, it’s becoming difficult to separate the two issues from each other.

Some Republicans say they’re considering trying to roll both issues, the CR and the debt limit, into one large budget negotiation with the White House although multiple members say the idea was not discussed in Friday’s meeting. The White House has said they won’t even discuss bargaining over the debt limit, raising the fear of a default if neither side budges.

But while the shutdown shows little sign of abating, there are subtle signs the debt ceiling fight may be less tense than some initially feared. The New York Times reported on Thursday night that Boehner had informed colleagues he was unwilling to default and would rely on Democratic votes to pass a debt ceiling increase if necessary. Similarreports soon followed. Republican members who talked to MSNBC on Thursday indicated they were uneasy with using the debt limit as a threat, preferring instead to characterize it as a general opportunity to discuss the budget with the White House.

“I don’t believe we should default on our debt, its not good for our country,” Boehner said on Friday. “But after 55 years of spending more than what you bring in, something ought to be addressed.”