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A tweet underscores why Washington is stuck

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney
Getty Images
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney

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.

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.

(Read more: Will 11th hour bill keep the lights on temporarily?)

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.

(Read more: Obama to Wall Street: This time be worried)

"We're not going to be disrespected," Stutzman told the Washington Examiner. "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."

Stutzman tried to walk back the quote, saying it was careless. But it was probably the most honest thing said in the crisis so far.

And it shows, along with the blind White House official quote, why we are stuck.

The White House believes it has the political advantage and sees no benefit to acceding to any GOP demands, assuming that Republicans will eventually cave. They also believe negotiating on the debt limit would set a very dangerous historic precedent.

Republicans believe this is their only shot to get something and have no desire to give in to a White House they view as cocky and not to be trusted.

— By Ben White, POLITICO's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. White also authors the daily tip sheet POLITICO Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney] Follow him onTwitter @morningmoneyben.

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