If you want to know why Washington is stuck in an intractable government shutdown all you need to read are a pair of quotes. Here's the first one: "We are winning. It doesn't really matter to us how long the shutdown lasts," an unnamed senior White House official told the Wall Street Journal on Friday.
Republicans immediately seized on the comment as evidence that the White House is refusing to negotiate an end to the stalemate purely because the administration thinks a shutdown works to its political advantage.
In a Twitter exchange with this reporter, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney disavowed the blind quote in The Wall Street Journal.
"We utterly disavow idea WH doesn't care when it ends," Carney tweeted at us. "House should act now, no strings attached."
Despite the remarkable public disavowal, the comment to The Journal underscored the extent to which the government shutdown—which unlike in recent years has little to do with spending levels—is based on bitter distrust, even disdain, between the administration and House Republican leadership.
That distrust goes back a long way but the main antecedent was the 2011 debt limit crisis where the White House thought it had a "grand bargain" with House Speaker John Boehner and Republicans on taxes and entitlements only to see the deal fall apart and result in the Budget Control Act that eventually created the sequester and paved the way for the current run of crisis after crisis.
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The White House says Boehner agreed to the deal then backed out because his caucus would not buy it. Republicans say Obama "moved the goal posts" by demanding $400 billion more in tax revenue as part of the deal.
So now the White House, feeling burned by its efforts to deal in the past, refuses to negotiate unless the House votes on a clean bill to reopen the government and raises the debt ceiling.
And Republicans do not believe they can win any concessions from the White House on spending, taxes or Obamacare without using government funding and the debt limit as leverage.
And that's where the second quote comes in.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., this week summed up the GOP's desire to get something—anything—from the White House in return for ending the shutdown and raising the debt limit.
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