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
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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