Both Sides Dig In Amid Frustrations Over Shutdown

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 17: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) talks to reporters after a Democratic Senate policy luncheon, on Capitol Hill, September 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. He was asked questions about gun control and yesterday's Navy Yard shooting.
National Journal
Billy House and Michael Catalini
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Billy House Michael Catalini
Oct. 1, 2013, 5:59 p.m.

How long? Two days? One week? Longer?

Less than a full day in­to a par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down, signs of wear­i­ness and pres­sure were already show­ing Tues­day in the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence as mem­bers fret­ted over what was really be­ing ac­com­plished by a nasty stale­mate with the Sen­ate.

GOP law­makers such as Reps. Dev­in Nunes of Cali­for­nia and Peter King of New York con­tin­ued to be crit­ic­al of hard-liners in their con­fer­ence, as­sert­ing they were most re­spons­ible for push­ing Speak­er John Boehner, R-Ohio, and oth­er House lead­ers in­to a strategy of re­lent­lessly at­tack­ing Obama­care.

“Now they’re kind of play­ing with no cards in their hand, but they don’t know that yet,” an ex­as­per­ated Nunes said.

Oth­er House Re­pub­lic­ans made sim­il­ar com­ments more privately, con­ced­ing there may be no way out of this — giv­en the re­fus­als of Pres­id­ent Obama and Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., to budge — oth­er than to fi­nally agree to a “clean” bill that would tem­por­ar­ily re­start gov­ern­ment fund­ing to al­low longer-term ne­go­ti­ations. They could also then move on to the next battle over rais­ing the na­tion’s $16.7 tril­lion debt ceil­ing, which the Treas­ury De­part­ment has said will be reached by mid-Oc­to­ber.

“If you’re go­ing to lose a hand, get out as quickly as you can, when there’s less money in the pot,” one seni­or Re­pub­lic­an said. “We’re wast­ing a lot of time and en­ergy on the pre­lim­in­ary round that is not get­ting us any­where. Soon­er or later we’re go­ing to have to be­gin ne­go­ti­ations over the debt ceil­ing.”

But is there any face-sav­ing exit for Boehner and his lieu­ten­ants? Hav­ing star­ted this thing, said an­oth­er GOP law­maker, the hard-liners and House GOP lead­ers can’t just call it quits after only 24 hours. “You can’t just say, “˜Oh well, that was a big mis­take,’ “ the mem­ber said.

Con­ser­vat­ive Rep. Tim Huel­skamp, R-Kan., said he wished the shut­down was over, too. But he in­sisted House Re­pub­lic­ans are pre­pared to hold the line, and that all that has to hap­pen for this to end is for Re­id “to pick up a phone.”

“All we’re wait­ing for is the Sen­ate to ac­tu­ally ap­point some ne­go­ti­at­ors, and ac­tu­ally come to the table,” Huel­skamp said.

For his part, Boehner on Tues­day pub­licly ac­cused Obama and Sen­ate Demo­crats of hav­ing slammed the door on ne­go­ti­at­ing a way out of the shut­down. “This is part of a lar­ger pat­tern: the pres­id­ent’s scorched-earth policy of re­fus­ing to ne­go­ti­ate in a bi­par­tis­an way on his health care law, cur­rent gov­ern­ment fund­ing, or the debt lim­it,” Boehner wrote in an op-ed ap­pear­ing in USA Today.

Re­id, though, shined the spot­light squarely on Boehner.

“By re­fus­ing to let the House vote on the only bill that will re­open the gov­ern­ment, Speak­er Boehner is single-handedly keep­ing the gov­ern­ment shut down,” Re­id said in a state­ment after the House re­jec­ted three stop­gap fund­ing bills late Tues­day.

Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic strategy has hinged on not giv­ing in to Re­pub­lic­an de­mands throughout the de­bate on a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion to fund the gov­ern­ment, and so far the caucus has re­mained united.

“All of a sud­den, when they find the Amer­ic­an people are re­belling against their child­ish stunt, they say, “˜Oh we’ve got some oth­er stunt. Let’s do piece­meal what we were sup­posed to have done in the last six months,’ “ said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., re­fer­ring to the de­feated House bills, which would have re­stored fund­ing in a piece­meal man­ner for the De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, the na­tion­al parks, and the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., gov­ern­ment.

“I think it’s such a silly thing. Why don’t they just do their real work?” Leahy asked.

Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors shot holes not only in the latest of­fer from the House but also in the Re­pub­lic­an strategy.

“If any part of gov­ern­ment is shut down, we have a shut­down, and that’s gonna cause harm to people, it’s gonna hurt our eco­nomy, and it’s gonna cost tax­pay­ers more money at the end of the day,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. “I don’t know what their strategy is. You’re say­ing they’re gonna pick win­ners? Pro­grams? They’re try­ing to get rid of these agen­cies?”

Mean­while, Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers in the Sen­ate soun­ded al­most plaint­ive as they cri­ti­cized Re­id for op­pos­ing them.

“We want to con­tin­ue the con­ver­sa­tion,” said Sen­ate Minor­ity Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas. “We con­tin­ue to make these pro­pos­als. Hope­fully our friends across the aisle will en­gage with us.”

Mean­while, at the White House, Obama blas­ted House Re­pub­lic­ans for the shut­down, de­scrib­ing their ef­forts to un­der­mine Obama­care as an “ideo­lo­gic­al cru­sade.”

Such vol­leys came on a day when the Sen­ate and the White House quickly shot down the latest House Re­pub­lic­an bills that failed to win the ne­ces­sary two-thirds sup­port be­cause they were con­sidered un­der a sus­pen­sion of the rules — mean­ing a good num­ber of Demo­crats would have had to go along for pas­sage.

The idea, which had ori­gin­ally been pro­moted by GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, was to force Demo­crats to make a tough choice to either vote, or vote against, these pop­u­lar pro­grams. The no­tion also was that fund­ing gov­ern­ment in such a piece­meal way would be an­oth­er path to de­fund­ing Obama­care, though more slowly.

The White House be­fore the vote panned the strategy as “not ser­i­ous” and Re­id called it “an­oth­er wacky idea from tea-party Re­pub­lic­ans.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion and Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­ers on Tues­day also con­tin­ued to dis­miss the House’s calls for a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee to seek a com­prom­ise on a stop­gap fund­ing bill, say­ing that they would not ne­go­ti­ate as long as Re­pub­lic­ans con­tin­ued to at­tach strings to de­rail Obama’s health care re­forms — and not while the gov­ern­ment is closed. The simple solu­tion, they con­tin­ued to main­tain, is for the House to pass a clean res­ol­u­tion that would tem­por­ar­ily re­start gov­ern­ment fund­ing.

In a brief­ing with re­port­ers, White House press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney said he ex­pec­ted the shut­down to still be on­go­ing Thursday, though he noted that “House Re­pub­lic­ans have the op­por­tun­ity to re­open the gov­ern­ment five minutes from now if they wanted to take that ac­tion.”

The pres­id­ent plans to make an ap­pear­ance Thursday at a Wash­ing­ton, D.C., con­struc­tion com­pany to high­light the im­pacts that the con­tin­ued shut­down and a de­fault on the debt would have on the eco­nomy and small busi­nesses.

For Re­pub­lic­ans like Nunes, who said his phones have been ringing off the hook from callers con­cerned about the gov­ern­ment shut­down, there is ex­as­per­a­tion. He said he does not think that the con­ser­vat­ives who sup­por­ted the ap­proach ad­voc­ated by Cruz ever really thought it through. But he also said Boehner and House Re­pub­lic­ans are let­ting these mem­bers play out their hand.

Des­pite his con­cerns, Nunes said that Re­pub­lic­ans could be proven right in the end — even with a flawed strategy on the CR — “if the Obama­care rol­lout is a com­plete dis­aster.”

Stacy Kaper contributed to this article.
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