Republicans will stage piecemeal budget votes over the weekend offering symbolic funding to additional public services, as Republicans and Democrats accused the other of deliberately dragging out the wider government shutdown into a second week.
The GOP-dominated House of Representatives will attempt to re-open the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) and child nutrition and development programmes, as well as pledging to provide back pay for other furloughed federal workers.
Democrats are likely to reject the stopgap measures, however, which they regard as gimmicks aimed at shifting blame for the shutdown away from Republicans holding the president to ransom over his healthcare reforms.
Similar piecemeal votes affecting national parks and monuments, veterans services and the District of Columbia have already been blocked in the Senate, which is calling for a “clean” vote to continue all government funding.
As the two sides looked further apart than ever at the end of the first shutdown week, the debate shifted instead to allegations that both sides are seeking to prolong the stalemate for political advantage.
Republicans seized on off-the-record quotes in the Wall Street Journal which appear to show the White House settling in for a long fight.
It claimed a senior administration official had said: “We are winning … It doesn’t really matter to us [how long the shutdown lasts] because what matters is the end result.”
Though unclear whether such a remark really reflects the view of the Obama administration, the quote was jumped on by House speaker John Boehner in a press conference setting out Republican tactics.
“This morning I get out the Wall Street Journal out and it says: ‘We don’t care how long it lasts because we [the Democrats] are winning’,” said Boehner. “This isn’t some damn game. All we are asking for is to sit down and have a discussion.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed the allegation that it wanted a shutdown as “absurd” on Friday, repeating calls from Obama for the Republicans to allow a “clean” budget vote in the House that would probably see a majority voting to end the shutdown.
Instead, Democrats seized on a candid conversation between Republican senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, who were recorded discussing their tactics to keep blaming the shutdown on the president.
“I don’t think they poll-tested ‘we won’t negotiate’,” Paul told McConnell. “I think it’s awful for them to say that over and over. I know we don’t want to be here but we are going to win this.”
The continued war of words between both sides dashed overnight hopes that Republican leaders might be preparing a partial climbdown.
Boehner, in particular, rejected any notion that he had ruled out voting against an increase in the debt limit.
“I don’t believe we should default on our debt, but after 55 years of spending more than what you bring in, something ought to be addressed,” he said. “I think the American people expect that if we are going to raise the amount that we borrow, we ought to do something about our spending problem.”
Optimism had previously grown that Republicans were tiring of the fight when Boehner was reported on Thursday to have told moderates in his own party that he would work with Democrats if necessary to avoid a debt limit breach and possibly even pass continuing spending resolution.
Unofficial Washington estimates suggest around 25 moderate Republicans would back a vote on a “clean” funding resolution, which would be enough to pass if supported by Democrats, but this group still appears smaller and less determined than the hardline Tea Party supporters driving Boehner toward confrontation.
An eventual solution to the crisis is still likely to come in the form of a deal with Republican moderates, but all the time the party leadership believes it is at least persuading the American public to blame both sides for the shutdown they are likely to be encouraged to keep seeking concessions from Obama.
There are also signs that some Democrats are wavering in their support for the tough line adopted by Obama and Senate leader Harry Reid, as 57 House Democrats joined Republicans to vote for the piecemeal funding measures debated earlier this week.