Did the Shutdown Even Matter?

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 13: U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (L) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (R) listen as Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Doug Elmendorf (C) testifies during a Conference on the FY2014 Budget Resolution meeting November 13, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Elmendorf briefed the conferees on CBO's budget and economic outlook.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
Nov. 18, 2013, 4:31 p.m.

When budget ne­go­ti­ations began last month, Demo­crats felt con­fid­ent that pub­lic opin­ion sur­round­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down would force Re­pub­lic­ans to the table, eager to prove their party could com­prom­ise.

But today, there’s little sense of ur­gency on a budget deal. With less than four weeks to go be­fore the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee’s dead­line, the pub­lic fo­cus has shif­ted to the troubled rol­lout of the Af­ford­able Care Act and pres­sure on Re­pub­lic­ans has sub­sided.

“The shut­down is his­tory. We are mov­ing for­ward to try to get the next thing done,” Wil­li­am Al­lis­on, a spokes­man for House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an, said last week.

Asked wheth­er Ry­an and oth­ers feel pres­sure to get something done be­cause of the shut­down, Al­lis­on was blunt: “Nah,” he said.

Rep. Chris Van Hol­len, D-Md., a mem­ber of the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, said the idea that Re­pub­lic­ans may be feel­ing more at ease about the budget dead­line now that con­cerns about the Af­ford­able Care Act have taken cen­ter stage lined up with how many Demo­crats read the situ­ation.

“Our per­cep­tion is that they don’t want to move for­ward on the budget, jobs, and the eco­nomy be­cause they just want to play polit­ics on health care,” he said Monday.

Though talks between co­chairs Ry­an and Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash., are on­go­ing, it is be­com­ing clear that Re­pub­lic­ans are grow­ing less con­cerned about reach­ing an agree­ment ahead of the Dec. 13 dead­line, po­ten­tially put­ting Con­gress on a path to­ward an­oth­er last-minute deal to keep the gov­ern­ment func­tion­ing. The cur­rent con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion ex­pires Jan. 15.

As Al­lis­on put it, “If we don’t do any­thing, the gov­ern­ment doesn’t shut down, there’s not a second se­quester that hits, there’s not a debt lim­it, so if we fail to reach an agree­ment by Decem­ber 13, the world keeps spin­ning and everything’s fine.”

Still, some say the ex­pect­a­tions re­main. Rep. James Cly­burn, D-S.C., an­oth­er mem­ber of the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, said Monday that he wasn’t so sure that pres­sure on Re­pub­lic­ans was lessen­ing. “I thought there was al­ways pres­sure to do something be­fore the 13th of Decem­ber, ir­re­spect­ive of what happened in the in­ter­ven­ing time. I still feel the pres­sure is on all of us to do something be­fore Decem­ber 13th.”

Asked if he thought there’d be a deal, Cly­burn was less con­fid­ent. “I don’t know. This is the third time around for me. Didn’t work too well the first two times. Let’s hope the third time’s the charm,” he said.

Demo­crats say they are open to cer­tain spend­ing cuts in ex­change for rev­en­ue hikes, po­ten­tially in the form of clos­ing tax loop­holes that the party out­lined last week. But Re­pub­lic­ans are in­sist­ent that changes to the tax code should be left out of the budget ne­go­ti­ations — they prefer to tackle them in a tax-re­form pack­age — and have thus far shown little open­ness to rev­en­ue hikes of any kind.

“A budget agree­ment won’t hap­pen if Demo­crats con­tin­ue to in­sist on more tax hikes for Amer­ic­an fam­il­ies and em­ploy­ers, which will cost us more jobs and hurt our eco­nomy,” House Speak­er John Boehner said Fri­day. “Chair­man Ry­an, Sen­at­or [Mitch] Mc­Con­nell, my­self have all been clear: The pres­id­ent got his tax hike in Janu­ary.”

Even if budget ne­go­ti­at­ors were to reach an agree­ment by Dec. 13, it would not be bind­ing. Con­gress would still have to write and pass a series of ap­pro­pri­ations bills to fund the gov­ern­ment. And with just one week’s worth of le­gis­lat­ive days in Janu­ary be­fore the cur­rent CR ex­pires on the 15th, that’s ask­ing a lot.

As a res­ult, Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chairs Bar­bara Mikul­ski, D-Md., in the Sen­ate and Har­old Ro­gers, R-Ky., in the House have asked budget ne­go­ti­at­ors to send them a topline budget fig­ure as early as Fri­day, in or­der to al­low their com­mit­tees time to pre­pare ap­pro­pri­ations bills for fisc­al 2014. But few be­lieve the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee will hit that goal.

Van Hol­len said he sees little sign of pro­gress in the private ne­go­ti­ations between Mur­ray and Ry­an, or in the broad­er dis­cus­sions with the oth­er mem­bers of the com­mit­tee. He put the chances of the com­mit­tee com­ing to a deal by the Dec. 13 dead­line at “50-50.”

“There are on­go­ing dis­cus­sions, but we are very far away from any­thing that could even be con­sidered pro­gress…. I see no evid­ence of pro­gress,” he said last week.

Still, nobody is gun­ning for an­oth­er shut­down, either. With both parties still miles apart on long-term spend­ing goals, Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mc­Con­nell and oth­ers have be­gun dis­cus­sions about how to keep the gov­ern­ment open past Jan. 15 in the event that the budget con­fer­ence com­mit­tee fails to reach a deal.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who is in­volved in those dis­cus­sions, warned that the meet­ings were not ne­ces­sar­ily a sign that Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans ex­pect the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee — of which she is also a mem­ber — to fail.

“I think it just shows you that we want solu­tions and we want to make sure that the gov­ern­ment’s not shut down again,” Ayotte said.

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