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
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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.

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