Obama and Boehner escalate war of words

October 5, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
The Wall Street Journal’s Janet Hook talks with Hari Sreenivasan about the increasingly contentious war of words between President Obama and Speaker Boehner. Hooks says that the unanimous vote on federal worker pay relieves pressure on Congress only briefly, as the debt ceiling deadline looms.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  For weeks now Washington watchers have been saying resolution of the conflict will hinge on the actions of two men-  President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner. We’ll have two conversations now with reporters who cover each of them. For more about the speaker we’re joined by congressional reporter Janet Hook of the Wall Street Journal, so Janet, I’ve got to ask, does this morning’s unanimous agreement to give federal workers who were furloughed back pay, now if that’s approved by the Senate and the White House, does that buy John Boehner more time? Or does that increase the pressure on him?

JANET HOOK: Boy, I gotta say that unanimous vote is really an illusion, it’s sort of like the one thing that people can agree on is that they don’t want to, both parties agree that they don’t want to take this out on the federal workers who are missing days and days of paychecks. I think actually it kind of lifts the pressure on Congress to come to any kind of agreement if only because now there isn’t pressure coming from federal workers who are wanting to get their paycheck, they know they’ll be made whole in the end.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So what’s the likelihood then that Speaker Boehner combines this protracted negotiation or lack of negotiation into the debt ceiling conversation that’s looming?

JANET HOOK: It’s nearly inevitable that they’ll be combined if only because the calendar is, the days are ticking up to the point at which Congress has to act to increase the debt limit. And I think actually, it probably is something that Speaker Boehner would prefer to have both of those negotiations wrapped up in one, because no matter what, those issues are going to be resolved in a really tough vote for Republicans, he’ll probably have to rely on Democrats to help him pass these bills and he probably doesn’t want to have to do that more than once.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So we’ve heard a little bit more of a stubborn tone from the speaker in the past week or so, what’s behind that?

JANET HOOK: Well he’s got to be resolute until he’s not. He basically has to be resolute and stubborn until it’s time to make a big compromise, a big tough compromise. I think right now his main goal is to keep his party unified and the best way to keep his party unified is to hang tough. I think he’s going to hang tough until he figures the way out and I think he hasn’t figured that out yet.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So we’ve heard so much about this roller coaster relationship between Speaker Boehner and the president, given the crisis right now, where is that at?

JANET HOOK: Their relationship right now is almost non-existent, they haven’t had any personal conversations that approximate negotiations and they’ve become increasingly personal in their attacks on each other in public speaking. President Obama last week was giving speeches where he was calling out Speaker Boehner and basically saying he was almost single-handedly responsible for the shutdown, and Speaker Boehner has been just as harsh in return, questioning President Obama’s leadership. A couple years ago I think they actually played golf together when they were trying to get some budget negotiations started, and right now it’s impossible to imagine them out on the links together.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Janet Hook from the Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.

JANET HOOK: You’re welcome.