This week in Washington has certainly been one for the books. The United States saw its first government shutdown in 17 years, the historic (and glitch-ridden) rollout of the federal health insurance marketplace, a high-speed car chase that ended in gunfire outside the Capitol, and an act of self-immolation on the National Mall.
On the fifth day of the shutdown, lawmakers continued pulling at the rope in a game of political tug-of-war. Boehner will not put a clean continuing resolution to vote, which Senate Democrats and the White House say is the only way out. The House continued to push a piecemeal approach, passing resolutions that fund the most popular parts of the government. One of the latest such bills, unanimously passed to provide retroactive compensation for furloughed federal employees, is seeing support in the Senate, including its majority leader, Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Still, the leaders of both sides aren’t backing down, and the shutdown continues for another day. They are also aware that time is running out as the debt ceiling deadline looms ever closer. So, the question next week may be, which will break first?
Here’s what happened Saturday on the Hill.
Contributions from Michael Catalini and Billy House
5:03 p.m. — House Passes Mini CR for Religious Services for Military
The House passed a bill by 400-1 that would ensure the availability of regious services to members of the military and their families during the shutdown. The dissenting vote came from Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Ill., who said the bill “did nothing for the troops. All it does is provide political cover for people who won’t do their jobs,” referring to Congress. He explained his decision a statement on his website:
Day care centers on military bases are closed. Commissaries on military bases are closed. Military support workers are furloughed. Of course I want chapels open, but what about our military families who have no place to send their children and are forced to buy family essentials off base?
The House has adjorned until Monday.
3:21 p.m. — Hagel to Bring Furloughed Defense Department Employees Back to Work
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement Saturday afternoon that most furloughed employees at the Defense Department will return to work next week. Hagel said that some language within the Pay Our Military Act, signed by President Obama just a few hours before the government shut down, lends to the retention of DOD 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 interpret that the new legislation does not permit a blanket recall of all civilian employees.
2:42 p.m. — Senate Democrats Warm to House Bill on Furloughed Workers
Senators are trying to find an agreement that would permit passage of the House mini-CR that retroactively funds federal workers, according to a Democratic leadership aide.No votes are expected this weekend, and it’s unclear at this stage when next week a vote could occur, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is supportive of the idea, the aide said. Because any senator can block a request to move forward on a bill, leaders on both sides are still checking with senators to gauge support. (By Michael Catalini)
2:25 p.m. — Some House Republicans Say It’s Time to ‘Move On’
There were signs Saturday that more House Republicans beyond a cadre of 20 or so moderates may be starting to pivot away from a staunch opposition to any funding of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in any spending bill to reopen government. One of those who spoke openly was Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas.
“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,” said Farenthold, adding that he believes the thinking of some of his other colleagues also “is evolving.”
Farenthold was among the 79 cosigners this summer of a letter that many see as having crystalized the position of House GOP conservatives that defunding Obamacare had to be part of any bill Congress was supposed to pass to keep government funded by Oct. 1, the start of fiscal 2014.
But standing Saturday outside of the House chamber, Farenthold said of himself and some of his colleagues, “We’re not a bunch of hard-headed fools.” He said that undoing aspects of “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.” Those are some of the things that some Republicans believe they might be able to achieve in return for agreeing to increase the debt ceiling.
“I came up here (to Washington) to make a difference,” added Farenthold, 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.”
He added that the Republicans’ Obamacare battle, “I think, will live and be fought another day. 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 that his office in Washington is receiving — the ones that caller ID shows as “non-Texas area codes,” he says — “have been some pretty profanity-laced phone calls. We’ve had the F-word dropped.”
But he said, “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.”
Another Republican who had signed the Meadows letter this summer, speaking more privately, also suggested Saturday it was time to “move on.” (By Billy House)
2:12 p.m. — Cantor: ‘We Will Continue to Wait’
Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., surrounded by fellow House Republicans, blasted Senate Democrats on Saturday afternoon for not taking up House-approved bills. There are enough Democrats in the other chamber to get the bills, which provide funding for some parts of the government, to the president, he said. But, one reporter pointed out, there are enough Republicans in the House to get a clean resolution, which would open and fund the entire government, to the president. Cantor did not comment on the growing majority of House Republicans who are open to a clean CR, and focused instead on the need to delay the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. “We will continue to be here this weekend,” the majority leader of the House said. “We will continue to wait” for word from the camp of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., about convening a conference committee to “work out our differences.”
1:19 p.m. — House Passes Resolution to Pay Furloughed Workers
Just before lunchtime, the House unanimously passed a bill that would retroactively pay the 800,000 furloughed federal employees. The resolution joins several other “mini” CRs passed by the House that Senate Democrats, who disapprove of such a piecemeal approach, have threatened to kill.
12:30 p.m. — House Democrats to Boehner: ‘The Games Have to Stop’
Two hundred members of the House Democratic Caucus, led by Reps. Tim Bishop of New York and Patrick Murphy of Florida, sent a letter Saturday to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, demanding a vote on a clean CR. The authors echoed statements made by their counterparts in the Senate all week. “We demand a vote on a clean continuing resolution immediately so that government functioning can resume and Americans can move on with their lives,” they write. “The games have to stop.” The push to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, they say, has gone too far and put the U.S. economy at risk.
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Republican opposition to the GOP health care bill swelled to near-fatal numbers Sunday as Sen. Susan Collins all but closed the door on supporting the last-ditch effort to scrap the Obama health care law and Sen. Ted Cruz said that "right now" he doesn't back it. White House legislative liaison Marc Short and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the measure's sponsors, said Republicans would press ahead with a vote this week." Collins said she doesn't support the bill's cuts to Medicaid, while Cruz said it wouldn't do enough to lower premiums.