House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks to reporters following a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - President Obama continued to hammer House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday as no new signs of a resolution to a federal government shutdown emerged and the country teetered closer to the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling due to be reached in two weeks.
In a speech at a construction company in the nearby Maryland suburbs, Obama placed the blame for the crisis squarely on Boehner, offering no shelter to the Republican leader with whom he has had a hot-and-cold relationship since the Ohio lawmaker won the speakership in 2010.
"Speaker John Boehner won't even let the bill get a yes-or-no vote, because he doesn't want to anger the extremists in his party," Obama said. "That's all. That's what this whole thing is about."
But as the government shutdown crisis enters its fourth day, Obama and White House officials will have to carefully weigh just how hard they want to push Boehner, who is under intense pressure from the most conservative lawmakers in his party to not capitulate to a president who says he will not negotiate over either a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open or the looming debt limit.
In the end, analysts say it is in the interest of the White House of finding a way for Boehner to emerge out of the crisis with some credibility with his rank-and-file, as the alternative to the Ohio lawmaker that could emerge from the GOP caucus may be far less tolerable.
"There is an old Spanish saying, " said Steve Bell, a former Senate Republican aide and analyst at Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. "When you go to dig a grave for your enemy dig two - one for him and one for you. "
In perhaps a small sign of progress in the impasse, Boehner signaled on Thursday that he may be willing to hold a vote to raise the debt ceiling even if Obama refuses to agree to the Republican demand of delaying implementation of the president's signature health care law by a year.
Jared Bernstein, who served as top economic adviser to Vice President Biden in the first term, said that by taking the debt ceiling debate off the table that Boehner could potentially gain some negotiating leverage in the budget fight, but he does it at the risk of the GOP base "throwing him under the bus."
Bernstein said the best way forward for the White House is continuing to be "very explicit" with Boehner that it remains open on long term budget issues, while standing pat on the condition that a short-term budget and debt limit vote is passed without conditions.
"You essentially tell him by putting clean votes on the floor right now buys a ticket to robust negotiations on the other side," Bernstein said. "At the point, it's perfectly legitimate for him to go into any negotiation with any asks that he wants."
But even as Boehner showed signs of flexibility on a debt limit vote, House Republicans continued to pursue a piecemeal shutdown strategy to pass targeted funding bills for popular government services.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., wrote to rank-and-file Republicans in a memo Thursday that he was confident Obama and congressional Democrats would eventually bow to negotiations if Republicans hold the line.
"While no one can predict with certainty how the current shutdown will be resolved, I am confident that if we keep advancing common-sense solutions to the problems created by the shutdown that Senate Democrats and President Obama will eventually agree to meaningful discussions that would allow us to ultimately resolve this impasse," Cantor wrote, "The American people have elected a divided government and they expect us to work together and they will not countenance one party simply refusing to negotiate."
The House spent much of Thursday trying to develop smaller funding bills that would pay for popular government programs closed by the shutdown. House Republicans have scheduled a meeting for Friday morning to discuss their negotiating positions.
Obama, meanwhile, made clear, at least for now, he is going to use the bully pulpit to keep the pressure on Boehner.
"The longer this goes on, the worse it will be," Obama said. "And it makes no sense. The American people elected their representatives to make their lives easier, not harder."
Contributing: Susan Davis
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Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY