President Barack Obama speaks about the government shutdown and debt...

President Barack Obama speaks about the government shutdown and debt ceiling during a visit to M. Luis Construction, which specializes in asphalt manufacturing, concrete paving, and roadway reconstruction in Rockville, Md. (Oct. 3, 2013) Credit: AP

House Speaker John Boehner Tuesday called the president’s offer to negotiate a budget, but only if Republicans first reopen the government and abandon the threat of default, “a demand for unconditional surrender.”

What an Orwellian spin from the party that, in order to work its will, is demanding concessions from President Barack Obama on a list of issues from Obamacare to spending, entitlements and taxes, as a condition for turning the lights back on and enabling the government to pay its bills. The party complaining about unconditional surrender is the one holding the gun.

For his part, Obama had some inflammatory words like “insane” and “catastrophic” Tuesday to characterize the folly of pushing the government to default on its obligations. “You don’t get a ransom for doing your job,” was his message to Republicans.

That’s where the world’s most influential democracy and biggest economy finds itself as Washington’s latest manufactured crisis rolls on. In a spitball fight.

Obama reiterated Tuesday that he won’t negotiate under the threat of willful default, and he shouldn’t. Doing so to appease one faction of one party in one house of Congress risks making extortion a routine part of American democracy. Folding would instantly make Obama a lame duck. Demanding that of any president is arrogant; actually expecting to get it is absurd.

But Boehner is in a tough spot. Relenting on his party’s demands would probably cost him the speaker’s job. He could end the stalemate by simply allowing an up or down vote in the House on legislation to raise the debt ceiling and temporarily fund the government, without conditions, at spending levels House Republicans already approved. That would require uncommon political courage, but Boehner should do it.

Each would likely pass, but with a majority of Democratic votes. That would isolate and enrage the 30 or so radical Tea Party Republicans who see anything short of unconditional surrender by Obama and Democrats as a defeat for the GOP. It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.

There are real issues at stake here. Republicans wants to whack government spending and kill Obamacare. Obama wants to stand up to extortion and see Obamacare implemented.

But we’re rapidly approaching the point where all that really matters is finding a way out of this hostage crisis that won’t wreck the global economy.

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