White House edges away from short-term government shutdown fix

Olivier Knox
White House spokesman Jay Carney briefs reporters at the White House in Washington
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White House spokesman Jay Carney briefs reporters at the White House in Washington October 11, 2013. With a partial government shutdown in its eleventh day and less than a week to go before the Treasury Department runs out of money to pay the government's bills, the U.S. President Barack Obama has been urging congressional Republicans to end a fiscal impasse that has overtaken Washington and rippled through the country. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)

What a difference a day – and a poll that has terrible news for Republicans -- makes.

On Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that President Barack Obama would probably embrace a short-term measure to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a devastating, first-of-its-kind default.

“If a clean debt limit bill is passed he would likely sign it,” he said at his daily briefing.

On Friday, having postponed his 1 p.m. eastern briefing to 4 p.m. (conveniently after markets closed for the weekend), Carney came out to give a few spare details about Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner discussing the ongoing standoff. But, when asked about a possible House GOP move to adopt a short-term fix, his tone had changed.

“It has never been our desired outcome that Congress only reopen the government for a short term or Congress only lift the debt ceiling for a short term,” Carney said. “That is -- and I think I said this verbatim in the past -- the least they could do.”

“So is it still acceptable as the bare minimum? Sure.” he said. “If the Congress were to pass a clean debt ceiling of short duration to avoid default, the president would sign that.”

Carney had been asked about impressions among some of the Republican senators who met with Obama at the White House on Friday that the president was backing away from a short-term fix to reopen the government and extend its ability to borrow to pay for existing programs.

So what happened? a reporter asked. Did the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing the GOP at record-low approval ratings stiffen the White House’s spine?

“Were I still a reporter covering Congress and Republicans in Congress, as I once did, it's possible I could reach that conclusion,” Carney coyly said.

That doesn't ruin the prospects for a deal. The spokesman spent much of the briefing suggesting that House Republicans had softened their stance and that (to paraphrase a useful Winston Churchill observation), the process might be reaching the end of the beginning. 

"The president has, you know, a number of concerns with the proposal" from the House GOP, Carney said. "There are other parts of the proposal that, you know, he thinks reflects areas that we can, you know, find constructive agreement."

So "we're obviously in a better place than we were a few days ago in terms of the constructive approach that we've seen of late," Carney said. "But there's not an agreement."

Are there plans for more discussions? Is the president awaiting a possible vote in the GOP-held House of Representatives? Are we closing in on a deal?

Carney declined to give a detailed lay of the land: "It's a fairly fluid situation."