“This isn’t some damned game,” said Speaker John A. Boehner, his voice rising in anger. “The American people don’t want their government shut down, and neither do I. All we’re asking for is to sit down and have a discussion, reopen the government and bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare.”
Four days into a crisis that has shuttered much of the federal government — and 13 days before the nation faces an even more serious deadline to raise the statutory borrowing limit or risk defaulting on its debts — Congress appeared no closer to a resolution. Mr. Boehner opened the meeting of his fractious conference by reading letters from students at a Catholic school in Washington about how they handle stressful situations.
“We are locked in an epic battle,” he said.
The House on Friday will continue to plow through a series of minibills to reopen parts of the government, passing measures to finance the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Service and nutrition services for women, infants and children. In a rare Saturday session, the House will vote on a bill to assure federal workers that they will receive back pay once the government is reopened. Next week, the House will consider a bill to finance Head Start, typically a target of conservative budget cutters.
The White House issued another veto threat. “The administration strongly opposes House passage of piecemeal fiscal year 2014 appropriations legislation that restores only very limited activities,” the veto message said. “Consideration of appropriations bills in this fashion is not a serious or responsible way to run the United States government. Instead of opening up a few government functions, the House of Representatives should reopen all of the government.”
Beyond the minibills, Republican leaders will promote a Twitter hashtag, #LetsTalk, and send rank-and-file members to national monuments and memorials to blame Democrats for the closings.
“I get a sense that as we talk more about the monuments and we find out that there’s no reason for them to be closed,” said Representative John Fleming of Louisiana, “the question comes up, ‘Why are we doing this?’”
Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama are standing firm against any measure that links further financing of the government to a blow against the Affordable Care Act, and they are opposing Republican efforts to relieve the pressure by reopening politically sensitive or visible government functions.
The mixed messages from Republican leaders may be aiding the Democrats’ cause. In one breath Friday, Mr. Boehner said the confrontation boiled down to two very different issues: the health care law and the deficit.
“Our goal here wasn’t to shut down the government,” he said. “Our goal here was to bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare. I don’t think we should default on our debt. It’s not good for our country. But after 55 years spending more than what you bring in, something ought to be addressed. I think the American people expect if we’re going to raise the amount of money we can borrow, we ought to do something about our spending problem.”
Bucking up his troops, he read letters from children attending Sacred Heart Catholic School.
“One of them was like what he does when he’s feeling pressure,” said Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida. “It was funny, because it was stuff like, ‘What I do is I take a shower, and then I take a nap.’ It was just very cute.”
Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican who has been a vocal critic of his party’s more hard-line wing, emerged from the conference frustrated and worried that his party did not have a clear strategy on both reopening the government and averting a debt default.
As he hopped into an elevator, a reporter asked what the context of the debt limit discussion had been.
“Default,” he called out, jokingly, as the doors shut behind him.
Jeremy W. Peters contributed reporting.