Photo Courtesy: Associated Press
Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON- In his ongoing battle with Republicans over a government shutdown and a looming default, President Obama armed himself on Tuesday with an olive branch and an anvil.
For a brief moment at his hastily arranged White House news conference, Obama emphasized his willingness to work with Republicans to get past this fiscal crisis that's shut down the federal government for eight days and is now threatening to inflict real pain to an American economy.
Asked whether he'd willing to negotiate with Republicans, even if they just passed a short-term budget deal, the president brightly responded "absolutely." Obama added that he doesn't expect to get 100% of what he wants. And he noted that doesn't believe he has the answers to everything and joked that his wife could tell you about some of his flaws.
But in between the fleeting moments of conciliatory rhetoric, Obama pounded away at a Republican party-and particularly House Speaker John Boehner--who he says is trying to extract a ransom to do their job.
Obama cast himself as the adult in the room-the one who has been willing to go more than halfway in past negotiations much to the chagrin to many Democrats-and is willing to sit down with Republicans again if they agree to even short-term deals on the budget and debt ceiling.
At this point, the president lamented that he has no true negotiating partner. The Tea Party is "forcing" the speaker to issue threats to the economy, he said. Obama even scoffed at Boehner's recent suggestions that there aren't the votes in the House to pass a clean budget resolution or debt limit hike.
"Let them vote to keep the government open or not, and they can determine where they stand and defend that vote to their constituencies," Obama dared. "And let them vote on whether or not America should pay its bills or not. And if, in fact, some of these folks really believe that it's not that big of a deal, they can vote no."
In this latest round of budgetary wars, Obama has maintained a rhetorical consistency: There will be no negotiations until Congress passes a clean budget and debt ceiling hike.
Obama says if he gives in now to what he sees as unreasonable Republican demands-which include defunding or delaying his signature health care law which Congress passed three years ago-- it would weaken the institution of the presidency and change American democracy.
His tough talk also could bolster fellow Democrats who are less than enthused by his track-record for negotiations.
Democrats grouse that he caved earlier this year when agreed to extending George W. Bush era tax cuts to those making less than $450,000, after vowing to sunset the provision for all top earners. And the bad taste lingers for Democrats from the 2011 fight in which Obama relented after demanding a clean increase to the debt limit.
But on Tuesday, Obama seemed to be trying to send the message that this time will be different.
"I think what has changed is they're aware of the fact that I'm not budging when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States," Obama said about the debt ceiling. "You don't pay a ransom, you don't provide concessions for Congress doing its job and America paying its bills."
Boehner, however, doesn't yet sound convinced. He told reporters shortly after Obama's remarks that Republicans won't blink to the president's call for "unconditional surrender."
"The long and short of it is, there's going to be a negotiation here," Boehner told reporters.
Who blinks first remains to be seen. But eight days into the impasse, there isn't even the semblance of common ground.