The news broke just before midday: President Obama had invited the top Congressional leaders in both parties to the White House for a meeting Wednesday -- and they had accepted! The silence had ended! Spring, politically speaking, had come!
Nope. A meeting isn't always a negotiation. And there's plenty of reason to believe this meeting will make a deal on the shutdown less rather than more likely.
Start with the fact that the statements coming from both sides in announcing the meeting were something short of warm and fuzzy.
"We’re pleased the president finally recognizes that his refusal to negotiate is indefensible," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner. "We’re a little confused as to the purpose of this meeting," added Don Stewart, communications director for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Then there was this from a White House official on the meeting. “The president will urge the House to pass the clean CR to reopen the government, and call on Congress to act to raise the debt ceiling to pay the bills we have already incurred and avoid devastating consequences on our economy."
Soooooo.....that's not exactly the recipe for deal-making.
Remember a few things:
* Congressional Republicans have long harbored a belief that Obama talks a good game about bipartisanship but that he simply won't walk the walk -- choosing instead to use GOPers as pawns in a broader political game.
* Obama and Boehner simply don't trust one another. After the collapse of grand bargain talks in the summer of 2011, both held angry press conferences denouncing the other. Boehner pledged never to negotiate one-on-one with the president again.
* Obama (and Congressional Democrats) believe that political blame for the shutdown is all going to fall heavily on Republicans. They have also watched as a handful of Republicans have begun agitating for a "clean" continuing resolution -- a sign of cracks within the GOP.
Combine that past history and the present statements by both sides and it's far easier to see this meeting as a perfunctory exchange of disagreements (followed by photo-ops denouncing each other) than the first step in a constructive dialogue that will lead to a re-opening of the federal government.