Shutdown Looks Likely as Congress Hits Final Hours

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, walks to the House Floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013.  Lawmakers from both parties urged one another in a rare weekend session to give ground in their fight over preventing a federal shutdown, with the midnight Monday deadline fast approaching. But there was no sign of yielding Saturday in a down-to-the-wire struggle that tea party lawmakers are using to try derailing President Barack Obama's health care law.
National Journal
Billy House and Michael Catalini
Sept. 29, 2013, 11:52 a.m.

With just hours to go un­til a gov­ern­ment shut­down, Sen­ate Demo­crats are prom­ising to tor­pedo the House’s latest le­gis­lat­ive vol­ley, Re­pub­lic­ans are for­mu­lat­ing last-minute plans to score a vic­tory against Obama­care, and both sides are dig­ging polit­ic­al en­trench­ments that make shut­ter­ing the gov­ern­ment in­creas­ingly likely.

With the Sen­ate set to act next, and the House ready­ing a re­sponse, the two cham­bers are en­gaged in a game of polit­ic­al hot potato, with both try­ing not to be con­sid­er­ing the last ver­sion of a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion when the dead­line hits.

But with a par­tial shut­down — the first since 1996 — slated for mid­night, many are pess­im­ist­ic. Asked on CBS’s Face the Na­tion if he thinks a shut­down will oc­cur, the Sen­ate’s No. 2 Demo­crat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said, “I’m afraid I do.”

“The House po­s­i­tion, which is ba­sic­ally the same one they sent us the last time, is go­ing to be re­jec­ted again,” Durbin said. “And we are go­ing to face the pro­spect of the gov­ern­ment shut­ting down.”

What hap­pens next, ac­cord­ing to Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aides, is that the Sen­ate will take up the con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion passed by the House early Sunday morn­ing, but will strip out what Demo­crat­ic lead­ers view as tox­ic pro­vi­sions that would af­fect the Af­ford­able Care Act.

The House’s bill delays the im­ple­ment­a­tion of Obama­care for a year and re­peals a med­ic­al-device tax that funds por­tions of the ACA. A sep­ar­ate res­ol­u­tion passed by the House calls for pay­ing the mil­it­ary in the event of a shut­down.

House Re­pub­lic­ans are hop­ing that Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors from con­ser­vat­ive states will join with those who op­pose the med­ic­al-device tax to pres­sure Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., for a vote on those pro­vi­sions.

But Re­id’s next move is any­thing but a mys­tery. Say­ing that the House’s ac­tion Sunday was “point­less,” Re­id in­tends to strip the con­tro­ver­sial pro­vi­sions (wheth­er the Sen­ate will vote on the mil­it­ary fund­ing is still un­clear) with a mo­tion to table, which re­quires a simple ma­jor­ity, ac­cord­ing to a Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship aide. Re­id will then send the same bill that passed the cham­ber on Fri­day back to the House, the aide said.

After the Sen­ate acts, the House is likely to have only hours to ad­dress the Sen­ate ver­sion of the “clean” fund­ing bill, a fact that Speak­er John Boehner, R-Ohio, railed against in a state­ment Sunday. “If the Sen­ate stalls un­til Monday af­ter­noon “¦ it would be an act of breath­tak­ing ar­rog­ance by the Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship,” he said. “They will be de­lib­er­ately bring­ing the na­tion to the brink of a gov­ern­ment shut­down.”

But House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers said Sunday that they were also mulling op­tions on how to pro­ceed in a way that might be ac­cept­able to enough con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers of their con­fer­ence as they race against the mid­night dead­line.

“We have oth­er op­tions for the Sen­ate to look at,” said House Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy, R-Cal­if. He would not out­line those, or say wheth­er a “clean” fund­ing bill was an op­tion.

One op­tion be­ing con­sidered, House GOP mem­bers say, is to re­vise the CR to in­clude lan­guage by Sen. Dav­id Vit­ter, R-La., that would pre­vent mem­bers of Con­gress and their staffers from re­ceiv­ing ex­emp­tions from key Obama­care meas­ures.

But Re­id has shot down any pro­vi­sions that would af­fect Obama­care.

In­deed, the Sen­ate Demo­crats’ po­s­i­tion has opened them up to blis­ter­ing at­tacks from Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who paint Re­id and Pres­id­ent Obama as un­bend­ing. With House Re­pub­lic­ans ar­guing they’ve ac­ted to pre­vent a shut­down, they say it’s up to Re­id to ca­pit­u­late.

“Let’s be clear what the Sen­ate has done,” Cruz said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “So far Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id has es­sen­tially told the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives and the Amer­ic­an people, go jump in a lake. He said, ‘I’m not will­ing to com­prom­ise. I’m not will­ing to even talk.’ “

Cruz, who has helped set in mo­tion the latest con­gres­sion­al ac­tion against Obama­care, did not lay out his plans on Sunday.

Sen­ate Demo­crats are bet­ting that the pub­lic will blame the GOP for a shut­down, and a con­tin­gent of Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans agree. The think­ing is that Cruz has set the GOP on a crash course be­cause Obama has threatened to veto any le­gis­la­tion that re­peals or delays the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Asked about the cri­ti­cism from oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans, Cruz was un­fazed. “I’m just try­ing to fight for 26 mil­lion Tex­ans and the Amer­ic­an people,” he said.

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has shut down 17 times since 1976, ac­cord­ing to an NBC tally. The last time was for 21 days in late 1995 and early 1996, when House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich and Pres­id­ent Clin­ton clashed over spend­ing. That shut­down left a deep polit­ic­al scar, with Clin­ton’s ap­prov­al rat­ing skyrock­et­ing after the shut­down and Re­pub­lic­ans shoul­der­ing much of the blame.

In a per­sist­ent GOP line on sev­er­al Sunday talk shows, House Re­pub­lic­ans said the show­down has res­ul­ted from a pres­id­ent who has re­fused to ne­go­ti­ate over Obama­care.

“People are pan­icked in this coun­try over high­er premi­ums, lack of ac­cess. This law is hav­ing a neg­at­ive ef­fect,” House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence Chair­wo­man Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers, R-Wash., said on CNN’s State of the Uni­on.

She said the stan­doff will end “with us com­ing to the table and ne­go­ti­at­ing. But “¦ Re­pub­lic­ans do not want to shut down the gov­ern­ment.”

However, House Budget Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Chris Van Hol­len, D-Md., said on Face the Na­tion that the Re­pub­lic­an ef­fort to delay the law “is a way to pre­vent mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans from sign­ing up for more af­ford­able health care.”

As he put it, “What you see in the House is that Speak­er Boehner has es­sen­tially handed the gavel over to Sen­at­or Cruz.”

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