President Obama and Senate Democrats have two very different stated goals regarding the fiscal fight over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling debate.
This is setting up a dynamic in which the president blames Republicans for their intransigence even as his Senate cohorts demand spending increases without offering any policy concessions.
Obama, throughout the shutdown fight, has adopted an apparently reasonable position: raise the debt limit, in order to avoid a default, and end the shutdown by funding government at levels set by House Republicans.
"Keeping the people's government open is not a concession to me," Obama told reporters on the eve of the shutdown.
That's a solid rhetorical tactic, if your goal is to convince the media — and, by extension, the American people — that Republicans are at fault for the ongoing shutdown.
"There must be a clean debt limit increase that allows us to pay the bills we have incurred and avoid default, and that the House needs to pass the clean continuing resolution to open up the government and end the shutdown that is hurting middle class families and businesses across the country," the Obama team reiterated in a readout of the president's phone call Sunday with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
That's not what Obama's allies in the Senate require, though. They want to increase government spending from the current level — set by the sequestration process established by law in 2011 — of $988 billion to $1.058 trillion.
“The parties have different views. We passed a budget of $1.058 trillion and they passed one — the Ryan budget — [at] $988 [billion],” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “So, that is a serious issue.”
“We haven’t picked a number, but clearly we need to negotiate between those two,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.
A GOP aide told the Washington Examiner that Democrats have offered "nothing" in exchange for progress on the sequester — nothing except the end to the shutdown.
It's a pincer movement: Obama blames Republicans for making unreasonable demands, while Senate Democrats only agree to alleviate that political pressure in exchange for complete GOP surrender.
They're trying to "break the will" of the Republican Party, according to a "top Senate Democratic aide" quoted by the Huffington Post's Sam Stein.
“If, in the next few days, we break the will of [Speaker] Boehner and Senate Republicans, and we pass both a clean CR and debt limit increase, I think that there is a belief within the Senate Democratic caucus that there is absolutely no way that they would have any leverage to make major demands in future negotiations about this, that we would be in a better position,” Stein quotes the aide as saying.
The reversal of the sequester would not happen immediately. Instead, Senate Democrats would accept a short-term extension of government funding at current levels, with the goal of negotiating to raise spending while Republicans remain bruised by the shutdown fight.
“I think the Democrats are on the verge of being one tick too cute as they see the House possibly in disarray -- they now are overreaching, and I think that what we've got to do is get this back in the middle of the road, act like adults,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.