Will Positions Soften in Week Two of the Shutdown?

Rep. Blake Farenthold talks to reporters while flanked by his fellow House Republicans in 2011.
National Journal
Billy House
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Billy House
Oct. 6, 2013, 7:40 a.m.

As the shut­down con­cludes its first week Monday, law­makers will re­turn to the Cap­it­ol mired in their stale­mate and rising anxi­ety over what hap­pens when the na­tion’s cred­it hits its lim­it, which the ad­min­is­tra­tion says will oc­cur next week.

The dual ur­gency of both mat­ters, some law­makers say, is a call for broad­er ne­go­ti­ations on a single big deal to re­start gov­ern­ment and lift the $16.7 tril­lion debt cap to avert a first-ever na­tion­al de­fault. But even small com­prom­ises have been elu­sive.

Pres­id­ent Obama re­af­firmed this week­end he “won’t pay ransom” to House Re­pub­lic­an de­mands to make changes to the Af­ford­able Care Act in ex­change for re­open­ing gov­ern­ment.

Mean­while, some Re­pub­lic­ans have said that there may be ways to achieve sim­il­ar eco­nom­ic goals through ne­go­ti­ations over policies oth­er than Obama­care.

“If we can make the same or big­ger dif­fer­ence do­ing something oth­er than [tar­get­ing] Obam­care, I don’t see why we wouldn’t do it,” Rep. Blake Far­enthold, R-Texas, said Sat­urday.

Over­all, con­gres­sion­al activ­ity has slowed. House GOP lead­ers poked fun at the Sen­ate on Sat­urday for hav­ing taken few roll-call votes last week while giv­ing un­an­im­ous con­sent to meas­ures like one des­ig­nat­ing this Na­tion­al Chess Week. At the same time, the House’s piece­meal budget bills — re­cog­nized as dead-on-ar­rival in the Sen­ate — con­tin­ue to dom­in­ate floor time there.

Many con­gres­sion­al hear­ings were can­celed or post­poned last week. This week, hear­ings and oth­er con­gres­sion­al activ­it­ies are few­er than usu­al, with ex­cep­tions for Re­pub­lic­an scru­tiny or at­tacks on Obama’s health care law. Here are some of this week’s high­lights:

  • The House is set to con­tin­ue floor ac­tion on vari­ous par­tial fund­ing bills, though the Sen­ate has already said it won’t take them up.
  • The House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee has set a hear­ing for Wed­nes­day to look in­to the In­tern­al Rev­en­ue Ser­vice’s role in im­ple­ment­ing and en­for­cing the Af­ford­able Care Act.
  • A House Small Busi­ness sub­com­mit­tee will look Wed­nes­day in­to how Obama­care’s defin­i­tion of full-time em­ploy­ee im­pacts small busi­nesses.
  • The Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions sub­com­mit­tee on Afric­an Af­fairs will hold a hear­ing Tues­day on se­cur­ity and gov­ernance in Somalia, called “Con­sol­id­at­ing Gains, Con­front­ing Chal­lenges, and Chart­ing the Path For­ward.”
  • The House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Wed­nes­day on wheth­er U.S. aid to Haiti fol­low­ing the 2010 earth­quake has been ef­fect­ive.
  • The House Nat­ur­al Re­sources En­ergy and Min­er­al Re­sources Sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Thursday en­titled the “EPA vs. Amer­ic­an Min­ing Jobs: The Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Reg­u­lat­ory As­sault on the Eco­nomy.”
  • The House Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee has set a hear­ing for Fri­day on the “im­plic­a­tions” of last month’s Navy Yard shoot­ings on home­land se­cur­ity.

Still, at­ten­tion will re­main be fo­cused on the shut­down, the budget dead­lock, and the loom­ing debt-ceil­ing crisis. Mean­while, Obama had a packed over­seas travel sched­ule this week, but thanks to the shut­down, he is stay­ing put.

BUDGET AND FIN­ANCE

Re­pub­lic­an In­tro­spec­tion

The gov­ern­ment shut­down fight is now mer­ging in­to the fight over keep­ing the na­tion out of de­fault. Treas­ury Sec­ret­ary Jac­ob Lew sent Con­gress an up­dated warn­ing last week that the of­fi­cial dead­line pro­jec­ted for the na­tion to run out of bor­rowed money re­mains Oct. 17, when the Treas­ury’s bal­ance is pro­jec­ted to be about $30 bil­lion (though the con­tinu­ation of the gov­ern­ment shut­down might provide ad­di­tion­al breath­ing room).

But at some point soon, un­less the cap is lif­ted, the gov­ern­ment will only be able to pay bills only equal to the amount of tax re­ceipts and oth­er money it has com­ing in.

House Speak­er John Boehner, R-Ohio, has told his mem­bers that he be­lieves this is one of the few times dur­ing his ca­reer in Con­gress that is right for a so-called “grand bar­gain” to re­solve both budget and spend­ing is­sues and long-term drivers of the na­tion’s debts and de­fi­cits.

But there re­mains no clear path out of the cur­rent budget stale­mate and shut­down, much less how con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans can come to an agree­ment with Demo­crats and the White House on ex­tend­ing the na­tion’s abil­ity to bor­row. Boehner and Re­pub­lic­ans have said they will de­mand spend­ing cuts and oth­er policy re­forms and con­ces­sions in re­turn for an agree­ment, while Obama and Demo­crats say they will not bar­gain over the na­tion’s abil­ity to pay its bills. Obama and Sen­ate Demo­crats have also said they will not ac­cept any ef­fort to de­fund, delay or dis­mantle the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Adding to this mix is the wide­spread be­lief that Boehner is ham­strung by con­ser­vat­ives in his con­fer­ence from mov­ing on a stop­gap spend­ing bill without anti-Obama­care lan­guage.

However, there were signs Sat­urday that more House Re­pub­lic­ans — bey­ond a cadre of 20 or so mod­er­ates — may be start­ing to pivot away from such a staunch po­s­i­tion. One ex­ample is Far­enthold.

“We’re try­ing to get the eco­nomy fixed. If we can come up with ways to fix the eco­nomy and get the same bang for the buck you could get with [tar­get­ing] Obama­care, then let’s do it,” he said, adding that he be­lieves the think­ing of some of his oth­er col­leagues also “is evolving.”

Far­enthold was among the 79 co­sign­ers of a let­ter this sum­mer that many say ral­lied House GOP con­ser­vat­ives around the idea that de­fund­ing Obama­care had to be part of any bill Con­gress should pass to keep gov­ern­ment fun­ded.

“We’re not a bunch of hard-headed fools,” Far­enthold said Sat­urday. “Obama­care’s a big shiny apple that we think will save the eco­nomy, but there are lots of oth­er slightly less shiny apples that can make a big dif­fer­ence — tax re­form, en­ti­tle­ment re­form, reg­u­lat­ory re­form, spend­ing cuts.”

Some of those meas­ures could be sought by Re­pub­lic­ans in re­turn for agree­ing to in­crease the debt ceil­ing.

“I came up here [to Wash­ing­ton] to make a dif­fer­ence,” said Far­enthold, who was elec­ted to the House as part of the tea-party wave in 2010. “I did not come up here to kick and scream and sit in my of­fice and not have any­thing ac­com­plished.”

The Re­pub­lic­an battle over Obama­care “I think, will live and be fought an­oth­er day,” he said. “Be­cause I think it will col­lapse un­der its own weight, es­pe­cially young people who are go­ing to be un­der the in­di­vidu­al man­date scream­ing about what they are go­ing to pay for full-ser­vice cov­er­age, when they’d be fine with cata­stroph­ic cov­er­age.”

Far­enthold re­futed a sug­ges­tion he may be cav­ing be­cause of pub­lic pres­sure and an­ger over the shut­down.

“Most of the mes­sages we’re get­ting from Texas are, ‘Hang on, you’re do­ing the right thing,’ ” he said. But he ac­know­ledged that calls his Wash­ing­ton of­fice is re­ceiv­ing — from out­side Texas — “have been some pretty pro­fan­ity-laced phone calls. We’ve had the f-word dropped.”

Oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans who signed the let­ter this sum­mer, speak­ing privately, also sug­ges­ted Sat­urday it was time to “move on.”

DE­FENSE

Back to Work

De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel said in a state­ment Sat­urday that most fur­loughed em­ploy­ees at the De­fense De­part­ment will re­turn to work this week.

Hagel said that some lan­guage with­in the Pay Our Mil­it­ary Act, signed by Obama just a few hours be­fore the gov­ern­ment shut down, lends to the re­ten­tion of De­fense De­part­ment ci­vil­ian em­ploy­ees “whose re­spons­ib­il­it­ies con­trib­ute to the mor­ale, well-be­ing, cap­ab­il­it­ies and read­i­ness of ser­vice mem­bers.”

This means that nearly 400,000 fur­loughed DOD work­ers are eli­gible to re­sume their jobs. DOD worked with the Justice De­part­ment to cla­ri­fy that the new le­gis­la­tion does not per­mit a blanket re­call of all ci­vil­ian em­ploy­ees.

Pri­or to the an­nounce­ment, de­fense con­tract­ors star­ted send­ing some work­ers on un­paid leave.

De­fense gi­ant Lock­heed Mar­tin an­nounced on Fri­day it will fur­lough about 3,000 em­ploy­ees from across all its busi­ness areas start­ing on Monday. More com­pan­ies are ex­pec­ted to fol­low suit; 1,000 con­tract­ors who work in BAE Sys­tems’ in­tel­li­gence and se­cur­ity sec­tors were sent home and up to 15 per­cent of its work­force could be im­pacted.

Many de­fense con­tracts, tech­nic­ally, should not have been sig­ni­fic­antly af­fected by a shut­down, since the money that funds their con­tracts was largely ob­lig­ated in pri­or years.

EN­ERGY

Nom­in­a­tions Pending

The Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing Tues­day to con­sider the nom­in­a­tions of Mi­chael Con­nor for deputy In­teri­or sec­ret­ary and Eliza­beth Robin­son for En­ergy un­der­sec­ret­ary.

In Septem­ber, Robin­son said she is com­mit­ted to work­ing with the En­ergy Com­mit­tee on ra­dio­act­ive cleanup ef­forts at a former nuc­le­ar weapons site in Han­ford, Wash.

The site came in­to the spot­light last week when the En­ergy de­part­ment’s Of­fice of In­spect­or Gen­er­al re­leased a re­port say­ing that con­struc­tion of a nuc­le­ar-waste treat­ment plant there has not been sub­ject to prop­er over­sight and in­spec­tion by gov­ern­ment con­tract­or Bechtel.

HEALTH CARE

Sur­viv­ing the Glitches

Obama­care sur­vived its glitchy first week. But vis­it­ors to Health­Care.gov on Fri­day af­ter­noon — more than 72 hours after the on­line mar­ket­place for in­sur­ance was open for busi­ness — still re­ceived mes­sages in­dic­at­ing that the site was tem­por­ar­ily in­ac­cess­ible due to ex­cess traffic.

“We have a lot of vis­it­ors on the site right now,” it said. “Please stay on this page.”

As of Fri­day, the ad­min­is­tra­tion de­clined to provide en­roll­ment num­bers for the first week. But HHS touted the volume of traffic to Health­Care.gov, at­trib­ut­ing the glitches ex­per­i­enced by many users to ex­cess in­terest rather than oth­er soft­ware prob­lems. Ex­pect con­tin­ued head­lines — and spin — about people who have signed up suc­cess­fully — and those who haven’t.

Also this week, the Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee is sched­uled to hold a hear­ing on Tues­day morn­ing with the ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Medi­care Pay­ment Ad­vis­ory Com­mis­sion and oth­ers to dis­cuss how to im­prove post-acute care for Medi­care pa­tients.

WHITE HOUSE

Stay­ing Home

Obama’s travel sched­ule this week had in­cluded four coun­tries, two ma­jor sum­mits, and 23 world lead­ers in In­done­sia, Malay­sia, Brunei, and the Phil­ip­pines, in­clud­ing crit­ic­al trade talks and meet­ings with the lead­ers of China and Rus­sia.

But that was be­fore the shut­down. Now, he’s stay­ing put and look­ing to add things to a sud­denly blank cal­en­dar.

George E. Condon Jr.Clare Foran, Marina Koren, Sara Sorcher and Catherine Hollander contributed to this article.
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