House Republican leaders and the White House sought to reassure those furloughed federal workers that they will be paid when the shutdown ends, but resolving the crisis remains a politically difficult task since both sides see broader strategic implications to the outcome.
The GOP decision to attach the language to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act to the stalled spending resolution was a tactical one pushed by conservatives, who think that the spending bills represent their moment of greatest leverage with President Obama.
On the other hand, the president and his Democratic allies in Congress are hoping to turn back the clock to a time before Washington was not constantly on the brink of fiscal meltdown.
After nearly three years of jumping from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, Democrats want to establish a different order. They would like to make temporary funding bills, such as the one the Senate passed last week to keep the government funded, and regular increases to the debt ceiling perfunctory matters that are routinely approved without bringing Washington to the brink of disaster each time.
But the tea-party-backed members leading the fight against “Obamacare,” and backing the shutdown, say they came to Washington to disrupt the routine.
Obama and congressional Democratic leaders have refused to engage in any negotiations thus far, saying that they do not want to establish a precedent — for the rest of Obama’s presidency and for future presidents — that the party controlling just one chamber of Congress could hold hostage these basic legislative functions in exchange for political ransom.
Instead, Democrats have said they will only consider broader budget talks, including some tax and entitlement reforms and relief from automatic spending caps, once Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and the House approves a resolution that funds government operations and ends the shutdown.
“Once the government reopens and we get the debt ceiling settled, we’ll be happy to talk to them about anything they want to talk about,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Friday afternoon.
A few hours before Reid spoke, Boehner reiterated GOP demands that Obama must negotiate with them on both funding levels for federal agencies and the pending Oct. 17 deadline when the Treasury will loose its ability to continue borrowing money to finance the federal government.
“This isn’t some damn game. All we want is to sit down and have a discussion,” Boehner angrily told reporters Friday.
Republicans cite a long history of presidents signing legislation lifting the debt ceiling that was the negotiated result of talk between the White House and Congress.
At stake now is a government shutdown that could soon become one of the longest in history, and, more important to global financial markets, a possible default on the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt.