WASHINGTON -- With Congress unable to move, the end to the standoff in the nation's capital over Obamacare and funding the government is looking ever more certain to come down to a battle over the nation's debt limit -- and an epic smackdown from the global market.
Friday, all sides made clear they are not willing to move. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Republicans will not budge unless Democrats start negotiating over President Barack Obama's health care law. "This isn't some damn game. All we want is to sit down and have a discussion," Boehner said.
Democrats and the president said they will talk only after the GOP releases its chokehold on government funding and the economy by letting the House vote on a six-week funding bill that the Senate passed. "If Speaker Boehner will simply allow that vote to take place, we can end this shutdown," Obama said.
The shutdown is an economic drain that has dragged down consumer confidence by 14 points, according the Gallup. Economists say failing to raise the debt limit of $16.7 trillion -- forecast to be reached on Oct. 17 -- would be a catastrophe.
And lawmakers are starting to fear nothing but an economic near-cataclysm will break the impasse in the House.
"I'm apprehensive that we're looking at at least a couple of weeks until we bump up against the debt ceiling and the market is an outside force that pistol whips us into our senses," said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who has already begun preparing for the showdown by circulating a letter -- with nearly all the Democrats signing on -- calling for a clean raising of the limit.
However, Welch was not sure even presenting a unified front would move Republicans -- including those who are sympathetic.
"Ultimately what will get them to move is the market reaction. The market is just going to smash us for our congressional abstinence," he said. "At that point they'll cave. And Boehner knows that."
The question is why is has to be that way. Some Republicans who are fed up with the standoff agree with Democrats on the cause -- the tea party, currently led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
And they say the showdown won't end until Boehner stops listening to Cruz and company, dubbed "lemmings" by frustrated Boehner loyalist Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).
"The lemmings, they're followers. They're just waiting for the next guy in front of the mic, or the the next guy that's on TV. And they're going to run out and follow them. Because they're anti-leadership," Nunes told reporters this week. "They have never followed any leadership plan. Now all of a sudden, the leadership has adopted their plan, and we're fully implementing their strategy and plan, which I think is actually a lack of a strategy. It's not a plan."
Democrats like Welch agree completely with Nunes' point.
"What you have now is a minority in the Republican Party in one house of Congress saying, 'Shutdown and default unless we get our way,'" Welch told HuffPost. "They know it won't be passed by the Senate; they know it won't be signed by the president. So they say, 'Well, instead of winning elections in the Senate, instead of winning the presidency, we're gong to burn down the U.S. economy.'"
"The irony is that John Boehner, who is a man of the institution, said his speakership was about trying to return to regular order, and I happen to believe he was quite serious about that," Welch said. "But there's nothing that will destroy regular order more than the tactic of shutdown and the tactic of default. He's now essentially turned over the whole institutional legitimacy of the House to guys in the extreme wing of his party who have no respect for regular order."
Given the stakes, Republicans and some observers have asked why Democrats are not at least willing to come up with some sort of fig leaf or small compromise.
For Democrats there are two reasons. First, the "clean" funding bill that the House leaders refuse to bring to a vote was already a compromise that Democrats made to get the vote in first place. It's a short-term budget that accepts sequestration-level spending cuts.
"The Democrats are accepting the Republican budget number, and we don't like that, so this has actually been a victory for the Republicans on the budget," Welch said.
But the bigger reason is that, as a senior aide told HuffPost privately Friday in order to speak candidly on negotiations, Democrats see the standoff as an institutional crisis in which, if they give in, Congress will be beholden to the most determined minority on every important piece of legislation where the side that is willing to do the most damage wins.
Welch said he hopes Boehner and the more moderate members of his caucus will not let that happen.
"If we default, that will be a signal that we've gone from dysfunction to disintegration," he said. "I talk to lots of my Republican colleagues and friends, and they're dismayed."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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