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Democrats Focus Government Shutdown Blame On Boehner


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

And the partial government shutdown has brought intense attention to House speaker John Boehner. He's working to keep Republicans united in a battle against President Obama.

INSKEEP: People close to Boehner have made it clear he did not want this fight. But urged by other lawmakers, Boehner dug in, insisting that President Obama must negotiate.

MONTAGNE: Boehner now faces criticism from Democrats who offered their version of some very recent history. The shutdown came amid a fight over federal spending. Democrats contend they already compromised with the speaker over spending, only to have Boehner change course.

NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: With Congress deadlocked, the stock market sinking, and hundreds of thousands of workers still furloughed by the shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner went to the House floor yesterday to make what sounded like a reasonable proposal. The time had come, he declared, for President Obama to have a conversation with him.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: The president's refusal to negotiate is hurting our economy and putting our country at risk.

WELNA: But across the Capitol, in the Senate chamber, Majority Leader Harry Reid called the top congressional Republican someone who could not take yes for an answer. Earlier in the day, Reid's spokesman had put out a statement saying Boehner had a credibility problem. He said Democrats had already compromised by agreeing to a lower funding level for keeping the government open. The speaker of the House, Reid said, had moved the goal line again.

SEN. HARRY REID: We're not afraid to negotiate. We're not afraid to make reasonable compromises. But once again, the football was moved just like Lucy in the "Peanuts" cartoon.

WELNA: On Sunday, Boehner was asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos whether it was true that last summer he'd offered a so-called clean funding resolution to Senate Democrats, with no Obamacare amendments. Boehner acknowledged that discussion.


WELNA: It was Harry Reid, in fact, who publicly accused Boehner last week of going back on his word by giving in to the demands of those members.

JOHN PITNEY: Reid is playing psychological warfare.

WELNA: That's John Pitney, a congressional expert at Claremont McKenna College.

PITNEY: He figures that if he can undermine Boehner's public standing, raise questions about his credibility, then eventually he might be able to get a better deal out of him - because he'll have the psychological upper hand.

WELNA: Democrats are also chastising Boehner for another statement he made on ABC.


WELNA: Such a clean CR, or continuing resolution, has been sitting in the House waiting to be taken up ever since the Senate sent it over a week ago. By the count of Democrats and several news organizations, there are now enough House Republicans who've declared they'd support such a measure for it to pass, along with the votes of virtually all the House Democrats.

President Obama said yesterday that if Boehner contends there are not enough votes, he should prove it by letting the bill come to the floor.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My very strong suspicion is that there are enough votes there. And the reason that Speaker Boehner hasn't called a vote on it is because he apparently doesn't want to see the government shutdown end at the moment, unless he's able to extract concessions that don't have anything to do with the budget.

WELNA: Obama added he won't be making any concessions because he does not want to establish a pattern of negotiating under the threat of a prolonged shutdown or a debt default.

Claremont McKenna's Pitney says Democrats are taking a risk by going after Boehner.

PITNEY: If the Democrats succeed in pushing Boehner off the plank, they might not like the person who replaces him. And Boehner, who might otherwise be willing to make a deal with Democrats at some point down the line, will be less and less willing to deal, the more Democrats attack him on a personal level.

WELNA: Meanwhile, Boehner's fellow House Republicans are warning that even if he does cut a deal with Democrats, they may well not support it.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.