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In Shutdown, House Speaker is Man in the Middle

In Shutdown, House Speaker is Man in the Middlei
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October 09, 2013
As the partial shutdown of the U.S. government pushes into its second week, the spotlight continues to find itself focused on House Speaker John Boehner. The leading voice of Republicans in the House of Representatives, it has been his job to engineer a political victory for his party on health care and the budget. But as VOA's Jeff Seldin reports from Washington, it has become a lonely road.
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As the partial shutdown of the U.S. government pushes into its second week, the spotlight continues to find itself focused on House Speaker John Boehner.  The leading voice of Republicans in the House of Representatives, it has been his job to engineer a political victory for his party on health care and the budget.

House Speaker John Boehner has been angry...

"This isn't some damn game..."

He's been conciliatory.

"I'm not drawing any lines in the sand.  It's time for us to just sit down and resolve our differences," said Boehner.

And at times, even after a meeting at the White House with fellow Republicans, he's been a man alone, caught between party colleagues demanding a hard line on the president's health care plan...

"A one-year delay of that tax is more than fair given how poor the roll-out of Obamacare has been," said Cantor.

...and other members of his party who think forcing a government shutdown was the wrong way to go.

Reporter: "Sir, is this strategy working for the Republicans?

Republican Pete King: "It depends on how you look at it. Not from my perspective."

The political divide is deep, with a group of about 80 Republican representatives insisting on nothing less than the repeal of the new U.S. health insurance program known as "Obamacare."  It's something rival Democrats and President Barack Obama have flatly ruled out.

Many of the same Republican lawmakers are also drawing a hard line on the country's debt, saying they will not raise the debt limit by the October 17 deadline, putting the U.S. at risk of a default.

And as the shutdown drags on, John Fortier at the Bipartisan Policy Center says it's the hardliners who still seem to be driving the debate.  

“They certainly have forced the speaker’s hand to make sure this is not a light confrontation, that we have a big airing of the differences," said Fortier.

That approach has played well with the voters in communities which elected the hard-liners in the first place.  Steve Billet, with the legislative affairs program at George Washington University, says that leaves Boehner with little leverage.

“No one in the Republican party in the House of Representatives fears John Boehner.  They are not going to do anything - vote with him, in response to his requests - because there’s nothing he can do to them," said Billet.

In the meantime, with every day that goes by there is also more heat ((criticism)) from President Barack Obama.

"Talks, negotiations shouldn't require hanging the threats of a government shutdown or economic chaos over the heads of the American people," said President Obama.

Jennifer Duffy at the Cook Political Report says someone is going to have to flinch.

“It makes it very hard to cut a deal when nobody’s at the table," said Duffy.

"All we're asking for is to sit down and have this conversation," said Boehner.

The latest plea in a political confrontation that has official Washington still going nowhere.

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters covering a wide variety of subjects, from the nature of the growing terror threat in Northern Africa to China’s crackdown on Tibet and the struggle over immigration reform in the United States. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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