Boehner: 'This isn't some damn game'

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) urged Republicans to stick together Friday at a closed-door conference meeting, leaving for another day talk of a possible “grand bargain” to end standoffs over the government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling. 

“This isn’t some damn game,” Boehner told reporters after the conference, angrily responding to reports that the White House thought it was winning the showdown.

Lawmakers emerging from the meeting said Boehner told his colleagues they are locked in an “epic battle” with President Obama and Democrats on the shutdown, and vowed they would not “roll over.”

They said Boehner sought to hype up his conference a day after reports emerged that the Speaker has told some members he would not allow the country to default and is willing to bring legislation to the floor that would depend on Democratic votes for passage.

Speaking to reporters, Boehner continued the recent GOP strategy of casting Republicans as the party interested in talking, and blaming Democrats for stonewalling them.

Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have said that they're more than willing to discuss broader fiscal issues or changes to the president's healthcare law. What they won't do, top Democrats say, is hold those negotiations as part of talks to reopen the government or raise the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling.

“I reminded the president the other night that he’s famous for saying, ‘Well, you know, in a negotiation, nobody gets 100 percent of what they want,’ ” Boehner said. “Not going to get it in this one either.”

The House later on Friday approved its sixth and seventh measures this week funding targeted parts of the government, an effort aimed at shifting public opinion on the shutdown. 

In bipartisan votes, the House passed resolutions to fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

Most Democrats oppose the GOP's piecemeal approach to funding the government, and continue to call for passage of the Senate's "clean" spending resolution for the entire government. But these smaller spending bills have picked up a few dozen Democratic votes each time, and that was again the case today.

Following Friday's morning conference meeting, it seemed that Boehner’s message had helped rally both conservatives and more centrist parts of the GOP conference to his side.

Reports that Boehner could lean heavily on Democrats in an upcoming debt-ceiling vote had unnerved some conservative Republicans who have often battled their Speaker, but GOP Rep. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.) left the meeting on Friday saying his conference was “incredibly unified.”

The Speaker’s message to the rank and file, according to a lawmaker in the room, was to “just relax” about any stories that he might buck conservatives and strike the sort of deal that would leave many of them unhappy.

“I was opposed to shutting the government down — that's no secret,” Boehner told the conference. “I'm opposed to defaulting on the debt — that's no secret.”

Huelskamp, who lost his committee assignments for not voting with this party, said the GOP is “more unified since I've been here in 2 years and 9 months.”

The House will vote Saturday on a bill to provide back pay to federal workers furloughed in the shutdown, a move that could help win over some centrists and other members who have been critical of their conference's strategy.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), one of those critics, said Friday that “now that we're going, we've got to keep with the strategy.”

Republicans dismissed the suggestion that they would ever agree to Democratic demands for a “clean” government funding bill, or the White House demand that the debt limit be raised without conditions.

Some GOP members said they would not even consider those ideas if they came with a commitment of future debt talks.

“Isn't that great? Give me everything I want and then I'll talk to you,” said Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), dismissing that demand. “Come on. We're not that stupid.”

“We're not through negotiating, we're just through negotiating with ourselves,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said.

Polls have consistently shown more people blame Republicans than the White House for the shutdown, and the White House has adopted an increasingly confident stance.

On Friday, it reiterated that it would veto piecemeal spending bills, saying it was “not a serious or responsible way to run the U.S. government.”

“Instead of opening up a few government functions, the House of Representatives should re-open all of the government,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.

With the gridlock showing no signs of subsiding, several Republican members accused the White House of trying to make the government shutdown as painful and visible as possible in an effort to pressure the GOP.

“As the people begin to engage with this process, they're going to see what appears to be a deliberate effort on the administration to make the partial shutdown of the government as painful for the people as they possibly can, for political bludgeoning of the Republicans,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said.

“They're doing everything they can to make it cosmetically difficult on the American people,” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said.

Fleming added that he anticipated many GOP members would use a Sunday that is so far free of votes to stay in the District and travel to shuttered parks and monuments to try and force them open, as some did with the World War II Memorial earlier this week.

“There's ... an organic sense among us that we should show up at these monuments and demand that they be opened up,” he said.

— This story was posted at 11:23 a.m. and updated at 6:19 p.m.