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Dueling pressers intensify fight

Obama calls for a short-term solution. Boehner says he'll never surrender.
President Barack Obama waves at the conclusion of a press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on October 8, 2013 in Washington, DC.
President Barack Obama waves at the conclusion of a press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on October 8, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Barack Obama suggested a short-term truce Thursday, asking Republicans to vote to reopen the government and  raise the debt ceiling even for a short term, while long-term negotiations continue.

John Boehner's response: no way.

Boehner called Obama's idea a form of  "unconditional surrender" on the part of House Republicans. They won't budge, he said, on the shutdown or the debt ceiling without concessions from Democrats.

The drama played out in dueling Washington press conferences on Thursday, with Obama softening his position slightly to allow for a temporary solution -- only to be rebuffed by Boehner, whose position intensified.

The events brought day eight of the government shutdown to a close with little signs of a solution coming.

Events earlier in the day looked no better.

Republicans had offered up a retro idea Tuesday for getting a budget deal, unveiling a bill that would create a ten-person super committee tasked with drawing out a framework.

The only problem: the last time Congress counted on a super committee to come up with a plan for a grand bargain, it not only failed -- but is widely credited with setting off the chain of events that created the current mess.

And this time it looks like even more of a longshot. The U.S. faces default as early as Oct. 17th, meaning the committee would have a week to come up with a plan. And unlike the last time a super committee met to hash out a deal, this committee won't even start with everything on the table, since Republicans say revenues are out of the question.

That's left Democrats to swiftly reject the idea, accusing Republicans of trotting out a gimmick.

"I don't want a new committee, I don't want a new process," said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. She pointed out Senate Budget chair Patty Murray, who was walking toward her. "She's our committee."

The proposal is the latest in a long string Republican attempts to make the fight about procedure, rather than substance.

Though Republicans say they do want to talk specifics. Most don't want to reopen the government or raise the debt ceiling without concessions from Democrats.

"I'm not for default, I think that's a terrible position to be in. But I'm not going to vote to raise the debt ceiling without doing something about the deficit, because I think that's equally bad, which is what the president is asking us to do," deputy majority whip Rep. Tom Cole told MSNBC.

While the bill instructs the group to address the country's borrowing limit and spending, its passage alone wouldn't reopen the government or raise the debt ceiling as Democrats have been demanding.

President Obama said that the country needed "the certainty" that the economy wouldn't be in jeopardy before signing off on any negotiations. Democrats also pointed out that the committee would be a non-starter unless it explicitly said revenues are on the table.

Republicans' refusal to do so lead to the demise of the 2011 super committee, triggering sequestration and the fiscal mess we're currently in. And this time, the threat to the economy is far greater. "If this is a joke, the American people aren’t laughing," Murray, a former Supercommittee member, said in a statement. "The last supercommittee failed because Republicans insisted on protecting the rich from paying a penny more in taxes."

Even some Senate Republicans agreed with Democrats that revenues must be part of any larger fiscal deal. "I am for raising revenue as part of a bigger deal," said Sen. Lindsey Graham. "You could do a deal to replace sequestration without revenue. But if you're going to do a bigger deal, you're going to need revenue to get there."

House Republicans, however, continued to rule out revenues as part of a bigger deficit deal and insist that the creation of the group is a pre-condition for addressing the debt ceiling. "You're not going to make any progress unless both sides are at the table, talking," said Cole.

The move takes Republicans even farther away from any actual policy agenda. While Republicans floated various changes they'd like to see out of deficit talks—means-testing for Medicare, changing the inflation index for Social Security—they have backed off the wish list that Boehner had once floated for a debt-ceiling increase. Meanwhile, talk of changing Obamacare has fallen to the wayside, even though the shutdown that Republicans used to challenge the law continues to drag onward.

"I don't expect the president or Democrats in the Senate to unilaterally surrender on a signature issue, they're wedded to it right now. We'll probably litigate it again at the next presidential election after we see how it works," said Cole. "I don't think it can be the be-all, end-all of the negotiation. I never thought it could be, and I think events have proven that as we've moved this week. I don't hear a lot of people talking about Obamacare—I hear people talking about the government shutdown, more people talking about the debt ceiling and the need to negotiate."

But with the debt-ceiling deadline less than ten days away, both parties also suggested they'd be open to a short-term increase in the country's borrowing limit while the standoff continues.

"I would do a clean debt ceiling for a small period of time—30-45 days to get that committee together," said Graham. Obama similarly said he'd consider a short-term deal to reopen the government and lift the debt-ceiling, so long as Republicans did so before opening broader fiscal negotiations. "If they want to do that, reopen the government, extend the debt ceiling...if they can't do it for a long time, do it for the period of time in which these negotiations are taking place" said Obama. "The only thing I will say is we're not going to pay a ransom for America paying its bills," he later added.

It's unclear, however, how a few days or weeks would break the impasse between Republicans and Democrats, both of whom are insisting the other must concede before they will act. "No one wants to go first," says former White House economist Jared Bernstein.

And the standoff is already pushing some members to the brink. "I'm ashamed! I'm embarrassed. All of us should be," Sen. John McCain said in a passionate floor speech. "Somehow to think that we were going to repeal Obamacare was false and did people a great disservice!"

Additional reporting by Benjy Sarlin