Senators See Shutdown Crisis Evolving Into Larger One on Debt

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 03: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stands next to a quote from Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, October 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. Democrats and Republicans are still at a stalemate on funding appropriations for the federal government as the shut down goes into third day.
National Journal
Michael Catalin
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Michael Catalin
Oct. 3, 2013, 4:42 p.m.

Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors do not agree on much, but they do share a be­lief that the shut­down stale­mate will spill over in­to the debt-ceil­ing de­bate, with the like­li­hood that the gov­ern­ment will stay shuttered un­til the Treas­ury De­part­ment reaches its bor­row­ing lim­it in mid-Oc­to­ber.

“I think hav­ing them to­geth­er is a good thing, be­cause who wants to go through it again?” said Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y. “With debt ceil­ing it’s triply, it’s 20 times as dan­ger­ous — as bad as shut­ting the gov­ern­ment down is.”

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans say the is­sues have be­come fused and real­ize that they could have more lever­age in the de­bate over fed­er­al spend­ing as the gov­ern­ment gets closer to reach­ing the debt ceil­ing, now pro­jec­ted to be on Oct. 17.

“I think al­most every­one ac­know­ledges that the two is­sues for all in­tents and pur­poses have be­come merged,” said Sen. Ro­ger Wick­er, R-Miss. “Why would any­one make a deal on one as­pect and then get right back down to the brink?”

As to how the parties re­solve the stale­mate, law­makers have been dis­cuss­ing a so-called grand bar­gain, but there’s little hope that the White House and Con­gress could reach com­mon ground on such a deal, hav­ing failed at it be­fore.

“It gets now in­to debt lim­it,” said Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz. “So it al­most ar­gues for a grand bar­gain, but that ap­proach has failed so many times that one can’t have a lot of op­tim­ism about it. So we’re in a very tough situ­ation. No doubt about it.”

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., does not pub­licly see things as so com­plic­ated, hold­ing firm that be­fore he’ll ne­go­ti­ate on any­thing in a con­fer­ence, House Re­pub­lic­ans must pass the Sen­ate’s con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion with no strings at­tached.

“Let the House stop those ir­re­spons­ible, reck­less games and just re­open the gov­ern­ment,” Re­id said.

Sen­ate Demo­crats have also be­gun ar­guing that a “clean” bill to raise the debt ceil­ing should be con­sidered along with a clean CR. Pre­vi­ously they have said they would deal with the debt ceil­ing once it got closer.

Asked wheth­er Demo­crats want the House to pass a CR and a clean debt-lim­it in­crease to­geth­er, Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray, D-Wash., said it was crit­ic­al for Re­pub­lic­ans to “open up the gov­ern­ment.” But she agreed that the two is­sues would co­in­cide.

“The tim­ing is here,” Mur­ray said. “Debt lim­it is 10 days, eight days away, whatever it is.”

Demo­crats are hop­ing that by tak­ing a stand on the shut­down, they’re send­ing a clear sig­nal to Re­pub­lic­ans to back down over the debt lim­it.

“The hope is maybe once the tea party has real­ized it’s not get­ting its way on shut­ting down the gov­ern­ment that they won’t try the same stunt on the debt ceil­ing,” Schu­mer said.

But Re­pub­lic­ans want the pres­id­ent and Demo­crats to ne­go­ti­ate now. The path to open­ing gov­ern­ment and rais­ing the debt lim­it, the think­ing goes, is for each side to have something at stake. That’s not the dy­nam­ic now, they say.

“But I don’t think you get a grand bar­gain or any­thing that re­sembles it un­less you got a pres­id­ent at the table, you got bicam­er­al lead­er­ship at the table, and every­body’s gonna walk away with something that they wanted and something that they didn’t want,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

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