After weeks of intense focus on the crisis in Syria, the White House is set to turn to the economy. President Obama(Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

The White House is rightly concerned. Simply saying “I won’t negotiate” either by phone call to the speaker of the House, as was reported earlier, or in his unduly long press conference this afternoon, is not going to fly with the public. And it’s not in keeping with the president’s (accurate) assessment that bumping up against the debt ceiling would have catastrophic effects. (Shouldn’t he, you know, do everything to avoid it?)

You have to think that the presidential proclamations of refusal to bargain until after Republicans have openly capitulated on both the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling are a result of pressure put on by House GOP leadership. After the phone call, House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) released a terse statement: “The president called the speaker again today to reiterate that he won’t negotiate on a government funding bill or debt limit increase.”

And, by contrast, both he and majority leader Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.) emphasized Republicans’ willingness to sit down to talk. “Listen, there’s never been a president in our history that did not negotiate over the debt limit. Never. Not once. As a matter of fact, President Obama negotiated with me over the debt limit in 2011.  He also negotiated with the Blue Dog Democrats to raise the debt ceiling in 2010, ” Boehner asserted. “The way to resolve this is to sit down and have a conversation to resolve our differences.”

Cantor added, “Never negotiating — a position of not negotiating — is not a sustainable option. And we ask this President and Harry Reid — let’s sit down and let’s iron out our differences.”

It is not hard to see why the president wants the GOP to fold first; he is out to trounce them, believing a deal will then take care of itself. The alternative is easy to figure out: Negotiate about everything, all at once, with Boehner’s promise that he’d go to the House Democrats if need be to raise the debt ceiling.

What about sweetening the pot for the White House by offering a debt-ceiling extension through 2014 or 2016? House leadership aides don’t think that is viable and stress the bigger the increase/more time obtained the bigger the cuts and reforms must be.

There are many face-saving measures that could allow both sides to get to the table, but, right now, only one side wants to get there. Because that is obvious, the president felt compelled to come out and deny he’d refuse to negotiate, as long as Republicans prostrate themselves. You would think from the moribund “peace process” Obama would have learned that you can’t go down the road of preconditions. Like the Palestinian Authority, eventually this administration will simply have to show up, if for no other reason than refusing to looks bad.