The biggest takeaway from President Obama's Tuesday press conference was confirmation that he would sit down and negotiate with Republicans if they passed short-term "clean" bills to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.
"If they can't do it for a long time, do it for the period of time in which these negotiations are taking place," Obama said at the White House.
At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wasn't impressed. "What the president said today was, if there is unconditional surrender by Republicans, he'll sit down and talk to us," said Boehner.
The thing is, it might be Boehner's best and only option for ending the standoff that has seized Washington.
Let's take a closer look at why.
The government shutdown has reached its ninth day and Boehner's outlook now is arguably worse than it was the start of the shutdown. Polling shows the public blames congressional Republicans more than Obama, Democrats haven't budged from their demand for a "clean" bill to fund the government, and the shutdown is encroaching on the deadline to raise the debt ceiling.
What Boehner needs is a solution, and fast -- one, ideally, that satisfies the cast-iron conservatives as much as possible but can also win the support of the Democratic Senate and Obama.
So far, there are no obvious options. And previous efforts have led the speaker nowhere.
He has repeatedly called for Democrats to negotiate with him. They have repeatedly responded that they will only talk after the government is funded and the debt ceiling is raised. The House passed three stopgap spending bills leading up to the shutdown that took aim at Obamacare. The Senate swiftly rejected all of them.
In short, it's been back to square one again and again.
Boehner has closed the door on the idea of voting for a clean continuing resolution to reopen the government and a clean bill to raise the debt limit. But a short-term version of both might be least painful way out of what's proven to be a very tough situation for him.
If Boehner were to agree to a very short-term -- say, six to eight weeks -- debt ceiling extension and government funding bill, he could sell it to his conference as a chance to get Democrats to the negotiating table on health-care and spending. And in short order, Republicans would have some leverage once again, as yet another shutdown would be triggered without a deal and the risk of default would be resurrected without another debt ceiling increase.
Would it be easy to sell that plan to conservatives committed to gaining concessions from Democrats now? No. It would be difficult.
But consider the alternative. Obama's not budging. Neither is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). If Boehner doesn't either, he'd be left with a prolonged shutdown that polling shows has reflected poorly on Republicans. And he'd have a major stake in the potentially dire consequences of not raising the debt ceiling.
Viewed in that context, short-term bills suddenly don't seem as tough to swallow.
There are no easy answers for Boehner. There are no endgames that don't involve him absorbing more blame. But with the walls closing in and the options running out, what Boehner wrote off as "surrender" Tuesday might soon end up being the least painful path for him to walk.
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