Congress Looks Resigned to a Shutdown

The Republican “compromise” offers little space for negotiation, and Dick Durbin thinks a shutdown is coming.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas leave the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. 
National Journal
Matt Berman
Sept. 29, 2013, 7:55 a.m.

Do you think the gov­ern­ment is go­ing to shut down? That’s what CBS’s Bob Schief­fer asked Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill, on Face the Na­tion Sunday morn­ing. “I’m afraid I do,” he said.

Right now, with a day and change left be­fore the gov­ern­ment shuts down if Con­gress can’t agree on how to fund it, Durbin’s pre­dic­tion is look­ing pretty sage.

If for no oth­er reas­on, that’s be­cause with so little time left, the frame of the de­bate is still far from a po­s­i­tion that could yield a real ne­go­ti­ation. On Sunday, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., took up a line on the budget fight that seems to prime the gov­ern­ment for a shut­down. “It’s not a good idea to give the pres­id­ent 100 per­cent of what he wants on Obama­care without com­prom­ise,” Paul said on Face the Na­tion. “We’ve been of­fer­ing him com­prom­ises.” On Meet the Press, Ted Cruz said much the same thing: 

We shouldn’t have a shut­down, which means that Harry Re­id needs to move off his ab­so­lut­ist po­s­i­tion. His po­s­i­tion, you’ve seen mul­tiple com­prom­ises from the Re­pub­lic­ans and you’ve seen zero, I mean, can you tell me any move­ment the Demo­crats have had what­so­ever?

The “com­prom­ise” that Re­pub­lic­ans are cur­rently of­fer­ing is high­lighted by a one-year delay of Obama­care. The com­prom­ise is that this ac­tion would be kinder to Sen­ate Demo­crats and Pres­id­ent Obama than de­fund­ing or re­peal­ing the health care law al­to­geth­er. It’s also a po­s­i­tion that is far to the right of what most Sen­ate Demo­crats and Obama would con­sider ne­go­ti­at­ing over.

The “com­prom­ise” line ap­pears to be the frame of choice for Re­pub­lic­ans right now. “To­night, we of­fer the Demo­crat­ic minor­ity a com­prom­ise,” Rep. John Cul­ber­son, R-Texas, said on the House floor be­fore Sunday morn­ing’s vote. Rep. Dana Rohra­bach­er, R-Cal­if., sug­ges­ted on the floor that Demo­crats were crazy not to ac­cept the one-year-delay com­prom­ise. Delay­ing Obama­care, Rand Paul said Sunday morn­ing, is a “new com­prom­ise.”

Or, as Cruz more fully put it on Meet the Press:

It is the Demo­crats who have taken the ab­so­lut­ist po­s­i­tion. Look, I’d like to re­peal every word of the law. But that wasn’t my po­s­i­tion in this fight. My po­s­i­tion in this fight was we should de­fund it, which is dif­fer­ent from re­peal. And even now what the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives has done is a step re­moved from de­fund­ing. It’s delay­ing. Now that’s the es­sence of a com­prom­ise. For all of us who want to see it re­pealed, simply delay­ing it for Amer­ic­an fam­il­ies on the same terms as be­ing done for big cor­por­a­tions — that’s a com­prom­ise.

At the same time, Dav­id, what have the Demo­crats com­prom­ised on? Noth­ing. Zero. Their po­s­i­tion is ab­so­lutely no. How is that com­prom­ise?

Since his mara­thon speech earli­er this week, Cruz has taken a sur­pris­ingly lead­ing role among House Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing lead­ing meet­ings to push con­ser­vat­ives to hold strong against passing a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion that leaves Obama­care un­touched. Right now, that’s the po­s­i­tion that seems to be dom­in­at­ing. House Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy, R-Cal­if., sug­ges­ted on Fox News Sunday that if the Sen­ate kills the latest House CR (which it will likely do by Monday af­ter­noon), then the House Re­pub­lic­ans still won’t plan to move much off their Obama­care com­prom­ise, and con­tin­ue to in­sist on “fun­da­ment­al changes” to the law.

Un­less Sunday morn­ing’s talk was just pos­tur­ing, or bar­ring some kind of rad­ic­al shift in ne­go­ti­at­ing strategy, the terms of a com­prom­ise to keep the gov­ern­ment open are at this point very un­likely to yield room for bi­par­tis­an ne­go­ti­ation. So if Dick Durbin is a bet­ting man, he may want to put his money where his mouth is.

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