Federal budget deadlock could stretch into debt-limit fight
Washington began bracing for a prolonged government shutdown yesterday, with House Republicans continuing to demand that the nation’s new health care law be delayed or repealed and President Obama and the Democrats refusing to give in.
There were signs on Capitol Hill that Republicans – knowing that blame almost certainly will fall most heavily on them – are beginning to look for ways to lift some of the pressure.
House GOP leaders pushed a new approach to end the impasse, offering to fund some parts of the government – including national parks, veterans benefits and the District of Columbia government. The goal was to put Democrats on the spot by trying to make them vote against programs that are popular among their constituents.
Senate Democratic leaders and the White House quickly rejected the piecemeal strategy. And in a series of evening votes, Democrats helped defeat the measures on the House floor.
Obama made his second appearance in as many days to call on Republicans to fund the government. He was flanked in the White House Rose Garden by about a dozen uninsured people who will be eligible for benefits under the Affordable Care Act, which took effect yesterday. The legislation, often derided by critics as Obamacare, remains unpopular, but polls suggest that the idea of closing the government to stop it is even more so.
“This shutdown is not about deficits. It’s not about budgets,” Obama said. “This shutdown is about rolling back our efforts to provide health insurance to folks who don’t have it. This, more than anything else, seems to be what the Republican Party stands for these days. I know it’s strange that one party would make keeping people uninsured the centerpiece of their agenda, but that apparently is what it is.”
At the moment, neither side is feeling a clear imperative to end the shutdown.
Republican leaders prefer keeping the government closed to compromising on health care. And, with polls showing that voters overwhelmingly blame Republicans for the stalemate, Democrats, too, are willing to let it drag on.
Aside from a 10-minute phone call Monday evening, Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, are not talking. Nor is Boehner meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
Unlike most GOP House members, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma lived through the prolonged shutdowns of 1995 and early 1996.
Although the ardently conservative Coburn sympathizes with the more junior lawmakers’ strong opposition to the health care law, he says their shutdown strategy will end badly for Republicans.
“What they’re going to do, they’re going to dig in harder until the pain becomes so bad they yell uncle,” he said. “And it isn’t going to be pain from the president, it’s going to be pain from their own constituents.”
At least 12 House Republicans say they would vote in favor of a “clean” spending bill – one that simply keeps the government open for two more months, without any language about defunding or delaying the health care law. It is hard to say whether that is the beginning of a trend, and it is also well short of the number needed to persuade the speaker to bring such a bill to the floor.