Speaker John Boehner declared angrily Friday that this government shutdown impasse "is no game," exhibiting a fiery demeanor just moments after he emerged from a meeting with House Republicans that he began by humorously reading encouraging notes from school children with such messages as, "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 remark 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 would give furloughed federal employees their missed back pay retroactively, once the shutdown ends.
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."