By Bernie Becker, Justin Sink and Amie Parnes - 10/02/13 11:03 PM EDT
President Obama and congressional leaders emerged from a White House meeting Wednesday evening with little sign of progress toward ending the government shutdown, a standstill both parties acknowledge could last weeks. [WATCH VIDEO]
Following a 90-minute meeting, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters Obama had "reiterated one more time tonight he will not negotiate."
"At some time, we've got to allow the process our Founders gave us to work out," Boehner said.
The White House has signaled it now wants to link the government funding fight to a separate battle over raising the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling, which Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has warned needs to happen within two weeks.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Boehner "cannot take yes for an answer."
Reid said Boehner was unwilling to pass a short-term continuing resolution and debt-ceiling hike to negotiate on a broader budget deal.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Republicans "keep moving the goal posts" on what they want from a budget deal.
"I can only conclude they wanted to shut down the government," Pelosi said.
The Democrats said that Obama stood together after Republican leaders asked again to change his signature healthcare law.
"We had, shall we say, a candid discussion," Pelosi said.
Obama and top Senate Democrats signaled even before the late afternoon meeting that there would be little in the way of negotiation.
Both the president and Reid have insisted Congress should enact both a short-term spending measure and a debt-limit increase, but keep broader fiscal negotiations separate.
Obama told CNBC the rationale was “very simple”: Giving in would be a disservice to any president that follows him.
"I am exasperated with the idea that unless I say [to] 20 million people, 'You can't have health insurance,’ they will not reopen the government. That is irresponsible,” the president said, referring to GOP demands for a delay in implementation of ObamaCare.
That left top Republicans wary as they walked into Wednesday’s meeting, which included Vice President Biden, Reid, Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Pelosi.
Leaders in both chambers gave no indication they would back down from their current stance.
McConnell told CNBC that the meeting "was cordial but unproductive," and that a clean debt-ceiling bill was "unacceptable."
House Republicans said Wednesday they fully expect to be in session for a second consecutive weekend unless an unforeseen breakthrough materialized.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) signaled that the chamber would continue — and even expand — its tactic of funding smaller parts of the government that Democrats have pointed to as victims of a shutdown.
The House pushed forward five separate measures to finance the District of Columbia government, national parks, veterans’ benefits, the National Institutes of Health and the National Guard, with three of those bills passed by the chamber.
Using the Washington Monument as a backdrop, Cantor said the House would continue to pass measures funding pieces of the government, such as Head Start, if the Senate refuses to act.
“We are going to take every issue that is out there that we have agreement on and put it on the floor,” Cantor said at a news conference where Republicans pushed to blame Democrats for the barricading of the World War II Memorial and other national sites.
“We agree we ought to be funding this government,” Cantor added. “There ought to be federal employees returning to work. And then we can sit down and discuss our differences.”
On the other side of the Capitol, Reid sent Boehner a letter saying he would appoint negotiators to a conference seeking a budget deal — which the House voted for this week — but only after the House passed a clean short-term spending measure.
Reid was also forced to clarify some Wednesday comments, after Republicans used them to insist that the majority leader didn't care about children's cancer funding.
In the House, Republicans said they were more united than they had been at any time during the weeks-long showdown over whether to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act in a government funding measure.
Still, more centrist GOP lawmakers, who have been pushing to end the shutdown by passing a clean spending bill, met with Boehner on Wednesday.
More than a dozen Republicans have said they could get behind a short-term spending measure stripped of any ObamaCare language, perhaps even enough to push such a bill through the House.
Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), one of the members to meet with Boehner, downplayed any suggestions that the meeting he attended was confrontational.
“It’s not to put leadership in a tough spot. It’s to say, ‘How do we help?’ That’s what these meetings are about: How do we solve the problem?” Grimm told reporters. “The first step is getting to the table and discussing.”
Most of the Republicans who have said they would back a clean bill have also continued to vote for bills put forth by leadership, eroding any pressure the more centrist bloc can put on Boehner.
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), one of the loudest voices calling for a clean bill, acknowledged as much, and suggested that it was up to the hard-liners in his conference to decide when a shutdown might end.
“Maybe it’s because I come from New York. I rely on backroom meetings to get things done,” King said. “Other than that, I think it’s going to be until the Tea Party has had enough.”
Separately, a group of House conservatives also met to plan strategies for what seems almost certain will be a melded debate over the shutdown and the debt ceiling.
Two days into the shutdown, the right flank of the House GOP conference downplayed the effects of a shutdown — some calling it a “slowdown” — even as they said their side was the one pushing to reopen the government.
And conservatives said that the showdown over government funding was now a much bigger fight than the one they entered just weeks ago to try to derail ObamaCare.
In fact, both centrists and hard-liners said the shutdown was now over broader issues than the healthcare law.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) told reporters that Boehner would have no leverage with Obama and Democrats in debt-limit talks if the House GOP threw in the towel now.
“It’s about dignity,” Stutzman said. “And if John Boehner now takes a clean [funding bill], I think that he is ineffective down the road.”
“We’ve been ignored on this issue altogether,” Stutzman added. “We’re not going to be disrespected, and so that’s where we’re at today, where we have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."
Peter Schroeder contributed.
This report was updated on Thursday at 8:43 a.m.