Boehner Declares That Budget Impasse ‘Isn’t Some Damn Game’

Boehner: Speaking at Economic Club.
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
Oct. 4, 2013, 11:25 a.m.

Speak­er John Boehner de­clared an­grily Fri­day that this gov­ern­ment shut­down im­passe “isn’t some damn game,” a fiery de­mean­or just mo­ments after he emerged from a meet­ing with House Re­pub­lic­ans that began with him hu­mor­ously read­ing notes from school kids that he said are en­cour­aging him, “Don’t be sad” and “Hang in there.”

Boehner and most oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans left the closed-door meet­ing pro­claim­ing unity, as gov­ern­ment op­er­a­tions re­mained closed in­to a fourth day.

The speak­er’s re­marks that the shut­down stand-off with Pres­id­ent Obama and con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats is not a game was promp­ted by a story in The Wall Street Journ­al, which re­por­ted an uniden­ti­fied Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial as say­ing, “We are win­ning.” Boehner held up a copy of the news­pa­per dur­ing his news con­fer­ence.

Boehner said he has told Obama that “no one gets 100 per­cent” of what they want, and the pres­id­ent is not go­ing to get 100 per­cent of what he wants either.

His earli­er closed-door meet­ing Fri­day with fel­low House Re­pub­lic­ans had been seen as a po­ten­tial new junc­ture in the stand-off. But those in at­tend­ance said there was no back-track­ing by Boehner in his prom­ises to re­main faith­ful to the hard-line de­mands with­in his con­fer­ence not to ac­cede to a “clean” short-term bill to re­start fund­ing for gov­ern­ment op­er­a­tions. Hard-liners con­tin­ue to push for some con­ces­sion in re­turn, fo­cus­ing on a delay or de­fund­ing of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

In fact, little new strategy was de­scribed as spun by Boehner at all, as House Re­pub­lic­ans were set to con­tin­ue with floor ac­tion Fri­day and Sat­urday on piece-meal fund­ing bills for gov­ern­ment pro­grams that the Demo­crat­ic-led Sen­ate had already said it will re­ject. One such bill that would give fur­loughed fed­er­al em­ploy­ees their missed back pay ret­ro­act­ively, once the shut­down ends, might get the sup­port of the Sen­ate and White House, however.

Mean­while, the shut­down battle is now mer­ging in­to an­oth­er fight over keep­ing the na­tion out of de­fault. The na­tion’s $16.7 tril­lion bor­row­ing lim­it is pro­jec­ted by Treas­ury to be ex­hausted by about Oct. 17, and there is no clear path to how con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans can come to agree­ment with Demo­crats and the White House on ex­tend­ing the na­tion’s abil­ity to bor­row. Re­pub­lic­ans have said they will de­mand spend­ing cuts and oth­er con­ces­sions in re­turn for an agree­ment, while Obama and Demo­crats say they will not bar­gain over the na­tion’s abil­ity to pay its bills.

A be­lief among many law­makers is that both is­sues—the needs for deals both on a gov­ern­ment-fund­ing bill and a debt-ceil­ing in­crease—will now be handled in one big bar­gain. And Re­pub­lic­ans who entered Fri­day’s meet­ing ex­pec­ted Boehner to pos­sibly dis­cuss a strategy for ty­ing the two is­sues to­geth­er in some fash­ion.

But they left say­ing he did not do so in any con­crete or spe­cif­ic way—oth­er than to re­af­firm that Re­pub­lic­ans will not let the coun­try go in­to de­fault.

Most did say they were pleased that Boehner in­sisted to them that that me­dia re­ports this week got it wrong—and that he is not go­ing to “roll over” and buck his own party’s hard-liners by seek­ing to pass any clean debt ceil­ing bill with a com­bin­a­tion of Demo­crat­ic votes and Re­pub­lic­an votes to help get it through. And that seemed to please most of the Re­pub­lic­ans in the room, they said.

“Ob­vi­ously, it is a mat­ter of who blinks (first),” said Rep. Phil Gin­grey, R-Ga., who ac­know­ledged that much na­tion­al polling shows Amer­ic­ans are not ne­ces­sar­ily in the Re­pub­lic­ans’ corner in the stand-off. But Gin­grey said the stance be­ing taken “is not poll driv­en; we are proud of do­ing the right thing.”

“Through this whole thing we con­tin­ue to of­fer solu­tions,” said Rep. Den­nis Ross, R-Fla., “but we’re up against a Sen­ate and a pres­id­ent ab­so­lutely in­transigent, which is con­trary to this sys­tem of gov­ern­ment, and I think that res­on­ates with the Amer­ic­an people.”

However, one seni­or House Re­pub­lic­an aide, speak­ing on the con­di­tion he not be iden­ti­fied, said the House GOP’s pub­lic po­s­i­tion­ing will get only tough­er next week, “when mort­gage pay­ments have to be paid.”

That aide noted many gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees get paid every two weeks, mean­ing the real brunt of the shut­down and fur­loughs on them have not yet hit. But for now, he said, many of these GOP hard-liners are like kids warned not to touch the hot (shut­down) stove, but who have reached out any­way, and are now feel­ing cocky be­cause they haven’t been burned.

Some more-mod­er­ate mem­bers, like Rep. Peter King of New York, con­tin­ued Fri­day to say House Re­pub­lic­ans should go ahead and put the Sen­ate’s “clean” gov­ern­ment fund­ing bill on the floor for a vote that could end the shut­down—without adding anti-Obama­care lan­guage—and that, “we should have ended this a time ago.”

Boehner ex­hib­ited a play­ful mood to his con­fer­ence in his open­ing re­marks at the closed-door con­fer­ence, in an ef­fort at both en­cour­age­ment and hu­mor.

Boehner told them that he vo­lun­teers at Cath­ol­ic schools in the north­ern part of D.C. and that some middle school­ers had heard he was hav­ing a rough time. So, Boehner told his fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans, some of those stu­dents have sent him some notes of en­cour­age­ment.

Among their ad­vice for him, said Boehner, was “Don’t be Sad,” “Hang In there,” “Take time Off,” “Med­it­ate,” and even, “Take a Shower and Re­lax.”

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