New hope for debt deal, but not for government shutdown

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Friday was another day, which meant another round of grandstanding rhetoric but little progress in halting a government shutdown -- an ordeal 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 in which 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 let the House vote on a Senate version of a spending plan to end the shutdown, saying it would pass "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.

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.

However, GOP Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas described his caucus as "very unified" and said Democrats are "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."

House takes piecemeal approach

Boehner and his GOP House leadership, meanwhile, say they will proceed with votes during a rare Saturday session on piecemeal spending legislation to fund popular programs.

House Republican leaders sought to frame the votes as forcing Democrats to go on the record for or against funding for things such as national parks and veterans affairs.

Other piecemeal spending measures would fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service, as well as the Head Start program, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said Friday.

Democrats oppose the incremental approach, saying it amounts to conservatives choosing to fund programs and services they like.

And Obama would veto such measures if they reached his desk, the White House has said. On Friday, it said the president would sign a measure expected to pass Congress guaranteeing back pay for federal workers who are furloughed because of the shutdown.

The Pentagon may announce as soon as this weekend a plan to bring up to 400,000 furloughed civilian employees back to work, according to two Defense Department officials. CNN has learned the plan is in the final stages of being written and approved.

But even if that happens, another 400,000 government employees could still be furloughed. Others who are considered "essential" would work, albeit they won't get paid until the shutdown ends -- something that could take days, weeks or months more.

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 of yet more serious economic harm, both at home and abroad.

However, Boehner 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 anonymity to talk about the private meeting.

The speaker took similar steps in the past year on raising tax rates on wealthy Americans and emergency spending after Superstorm Sandy.

A Boehner aide said Thursday that the speaker "has always said the United States will not default on its debt, so that's not news." And Boehner said Friday that "I don't believe we should default on our debt." He then repeated his longstanding contention that government spending must be cut so that the nation doesn't continue to rack up budget deficits.

"This could be the beginnings of a significant breakthrough," Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said of such a debt ceiling vote in the House. "Even coming close to the edge of default is very dangerous, and putting this issue to rest significantly ahead of the default date would allow everyone in the country to breathe a huge sigh of relief."

The Treasury says the government is set to run out of money to cover its roughly $16.7 trillion debt on Oct. 17, requiring an increase in the amount it can borrow.

Obama out of APEC meeting

Meanwhile, with his focus on the brewing domestic crisis, Obama canceled his trip to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali, Indonesia.

"The president made this decision based on the difficulty in moving forward with foreign travel in the face of a shutdown, and his determination to continue pressing his case that Republicans should immediately allow a vote to reopen the government," a statement from the White House said.

Instead, Secretary of State John Kerry will lead the U.S. delegation in Asia.