WASHINGTON - Grandstanding rhetoric abounded Friday but little tangible progress was evident toward ending a government shutdown that both Republicans and Democrats say they don't want but claim they are unable to stop.
"This isn't some damn game!" House Speaker John Boehner said at a news conference where he ratcheted up pressure on President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats to negotiate changes to Obamacare as part of any deal to end the shutdown that started Tuesday.
Repeating his insistence that the other side was responsible for the furlough of up to 800,000 federal workers and other impacts of the shutdown, Boehner said Democrats were willing to let the stalemate continue because they think they are winning the public debate.
"The American people don't want their government shut down and neither do I," he said, calling again for talks on anti-Obamacare provisions that House GOP leaders say are intended to ensure fairness under the president's signature health care reforms.
OBAMA CHALLENGES BOEHNER ON SHUTDOWN
For his part, Obama repeated his challenge for Boehner to allow the House to vote on a Senate version of a spending plan, saying it would pass to end the shutdown "today."
"I'm happy to have negotiations. We can't do it with a gun held to the head of the American people," Obama said during a lunch break with Vice President Joe Biden at a sandwich shop near the White House.
Democratic Rep. Steve Israel of New York told CNN on Friday that at least 180 of the 200 House Democrats would vote for the "clean" spending resolution already passed by the Senate that would end the shutdown.
That means at least 37 Republicans out of the chamber's 233-strong majority would have to defy the party's strategy so far to reach the 217 threshold needed for the measure to pass and go to Obama's desk.
Israel said 20 House Republicans had publicly expressed support for such a move, and that he expected more than enough others to join them if the measure actually came up for a vote.
However, GOP Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas described his caucus as "very unified" and that Democrats were "confused" if they think "we're going to fold and let them win on everything."
Obama and Democrats reject the GOP demands, calling them political extortion intended to force concessions on the 2010 Affordable Care Act that was upheld by the Supreme Court last year.
They say they already made a major concession to Republicans when Senate Democrats accepted a lower total funding figure in their proposed spending plan, which would cover the first 11 weeks of the new fiscal year that began Tuesday.
In the view of Democrats, Republicans forced the shutdown and now have no strategy for ending it without getting blamed.
"They're flopping around like dead fish in the bottom of the boat trying to figure out what to do next," Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington told CNN. "They have no plan B."
His fellow House Democrats said Friday they would try to get Republican colleagues to join them in a procedural move that would force a vote on a spending measure with no anti-Obamacare amendments. However, the earliest such a vote could occur under their tactic would be October 14, they said.
"This will at least start the clock ticking," said Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.
HOUSE TAKES PIECEMEAL APPROACH
Boehner and his GOP House leadership said they would proceed with votes during a rare Saturday session on piecemeal spending legislation to fund popular programs while the shutdown continues.
Democrats oppose the incremental approach, saying it amounts to conservatives choosing to fund programs and services they like.
House Republican leaders sought to depict the legislative wrangling as Democrats harming federal workers and denying funding for services such as national parks and veterans affairs by voting against the limited spending proposals focused on them.
Other piecemeal spending measures would fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service with a tropical storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the Head Start program, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said Friday.
Obama would veto such measures if they reached his desk, the White House has announced. On Friday, it said the president would sign a measure expected to pass Congress that would guarantee back pay for federal workers who are furloughed because of the shutdown.
DEBT CEILING DEADLINE APPROACHES
A second fiscal deadline approaching soon -- the need to increase the federal debt ceiling by October 17 or face potential default on U.S. debt obligations -- has raised concerns that the legislative stalemate means paralysis that could cause serious economic harm at home and abroad.
However, Boehner reportedly told fellow GOP legislators this week that he won't allow the United States to default on its debt, even if it means getting help from Democrats to pass the necessary legislation, according to a Republican House member who requested