19 Times Democrats Tried to Negotiate With Republicans

The GOP’s biggest talking point of the shutdown is only true if you ignore everything that happened before last week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (L) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speak during a ceremony in the Capitol Visitor Center July 18, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Alex Seitz-Wald
Oct. 7, 2013, 8:58 a.m.

To hear al­most any Re­pub­lic­an law­maker speak in post-shut­down Wash­ing­ton is to hear that Demo­crats are re­fus­ing to ne­go­ti­ate to re­open the gov­ern­ment and avert a debt de­fault. It’s a talk­ing point that may be selling well, but it’s only true if you ig­nore any­thing that happened be­fore last Monday at about 11 p.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans think they’ve hit talk­ing-point gold with the mes­sage, as we learned from a can­did “hot mic” mo­ment last week when Sen. Rand Paul privately told fel­low Ken­tucki­an Mitch Mc­Con­nell that he didn’t think Demo­crats had “poll-tested” the “aw­ful” mes­sage. ” ‘It’s my way or the high­way.’ That’s what he’s say­ing. Com­plete sur­render, and then we’ll talk to you,” House Speak­er John Boehner told ABC News on Sunday.

In a sense, Re­pub­lic­ans are right. Demo­crats view keep­ing the gov­ern­ment open and out of de­fault as Con­gress’s most ba­sic job, and the char­ac­ter­ize any­thing that threatens that as “ransom,” so they say they’re not will­ing to come to the table un­til the gov­ern­ment re­opens. But, in con­text, the GOP’s biggest talk­ing point of the shut­down falls apart when you con­sider that Demo­crats only star­ted re­fus­ing to ne­go­ti­ate after Re­pub­lic­ans stopped, the hour be­fore the gov­ern­ment shut down a week ago.

For in­stance, through a Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide, here are all the times since this spring Sen­ate Demo­crats tried to ne­go­ti­ate with Re­pub­lic­ans by send­ing their budget to a bicam­er­al con­fer­ence com­mit­tee. Every time, Re­pub­lic­ans blocked the move:

1. 4/23 Sen­at­or Re­id re­ques­ted un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, Sen­at­or Toomey blocked.

2. 5/6 Sen­at­or Re­id re­ques­ted un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, Sen­at­or Cruz blocked.

3. 5/7 Sen­at­or Mur­ray re­ques­ted un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, Sen­at­or Mc­Con­nell blocked.

4. 5/8 Sen­at­or Warner asked un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, Sen­at­or Mc­Con­nell blocked.

5. 5/9 Sen­at­or Mur­ray asked un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, Sen­at­or Mc­Con­nell blocked.

6. 5/14 Sen­at­or Warner asked un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, and Sen­at­or Mc­Con­nell blocked.

7. 5/15 Sen­at­or Wyden asked un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, and Sen­at­or Mc­Con­nell blocked.

8. 5/16 Sen­at­or Mur­ray asked un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, and Sen­at­or Lee blocked.

9. 5/21 Sen­at­or Mur­ray asked un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, and Sen­at­or Paul blocked.

10. 5/22 Sen­at­or Kaine asked un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, and Sen­at­or Ru­bio blocked.

11. 5/23 Sen­at­or Mc­Caskill asked un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, and Sen­at­or Lee blocked.

12. 6/4 Sen­at­or Mur­ray asked un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, and Sen­at­or Ru­bio blocked.

13. 6/12 Sen­at­or Kaine asked un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, and Sen­at­or Lee blocked.

14. 6/19 Sen­at­or Mur­ray asked un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, and Sen­at­or Toomey blocked.

15. 6/26 Sen­at­or Mur­ray re­ques­ted un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, Sen­at­or Cruz blocked.

16. 7/11 Sen­at­or Mur­ray re­ques­ted un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, Sen­at­or Marco Ru­bio blocked.

17. 7/17 Sen­at­or Mur­ray re­ques­ted un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, Sen­at­or Mike Lee blocked.

18. 8/1 Sen­at­or Durbin re­ques­ted un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, Sen­at­or Marco Ru­bio blocked.

19. 10/2 Sen­at­or Mur­ray re­ques­ted un­an­im­ous con­sent to go to con­fer­ence, Sen­at­or Toomey blocked.

“For six months I’ve tried to enter in­to form­al budget ne­go­ti­ations with Paul Ry­an, only to be re­peatedly denied per­mis­sion to ne­go­ti­ate by Ted Cruz and the tea party,” said Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash. “Now, a week in­to a gov­ern­ment shut­down that he could end at a mo­ment’s no­tice, Speak­er Boehner is simply try­ing to dis­tract from his con­stantly chan­ging list of de­mands.”

The parties flipped po­s­i­tions Monday, the first day of the new fisc­al year, when Re­pub­lic­ans tried to fi­nally start con­fer­ence-com­mit­tee ne­go­ti­ations just minutes be­fore mid­night. Demo­crats balked — “We will not go to con­fer­ence with a gun to our head,” Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said on the floor — con­sid­er­ing that they had been re­buffed al­most 20 times be­forer and that Re­pub­lic­ans had shown no in­terest un­til it was already clear the gov­ern­ment was clos­ing. Last week, House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor tweeted a pic­ture of a faux con­fer­ence com­mit­tee, which in­cluded zero Demo­crats, say­ing, “We sit ready to ne­go­ti­ate with the Sen­ate.”

Per­haps we could have avoided a shut­down if they had been ready to ne­go­ti­ate be­fore the gov­ern­ment ran out of money.

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