DC works overtime on blame with shutdown less than 24 hours away

William Douglas,David Lightman

As the nation careened closer towards a government shutdown Tuesday, the political protagonists traded blame Sunday over whose fault it will be if federal-salaried workers are furloughed and some federal services are shuttered.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives was in recess Sunday after voting in the pre-dawn hours to keep the government funded through Dec. 15 but delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The Democratic controlled Senate remained in weekend recess, refusing to come back until its scheduled return at 2 pm Monday. And President Barack Obama, who spent the day Saturday playing golf, remained out of sight Sunday.

“Tomorrow, the Senate will do exactly what we said we would do and reject these measures," said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “At that point, Republicans will be faced with the same choice they have always faced: put the Senate's clean funding bill on the floor and let it pass with bipartisan votes, or force a Republican government shutdown.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, accused the Senate of trying to milk the shutdown clock – which tolls Monday at midnight - by not taking up the House measure until 2 p.m. on Monday. That would give both deliberative houses of Congress only 10 hours to avert a shutdown.

“If the Senate stalls until Monday afternoon instead of working today, it would be an act of breathtaking arrogance by the Senate Democratic leadership,” Boehner said in a statement. “They will be deliberately bringing the nation to the brink of a government shutdown for the sake of raising taxes on seniors’ pacemakers and children’s hearing aids and plowing ahead with train wreck that is the president’s health care law.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has spearheaded efforts to force a showdown over the health are law, blamed Reid for being stubborn and refusing to compromise.

“So far Majority Leader Harry Reid has essentially told the House of Representatives and the American people, go jump in a lake,” Cruz told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “He said, ‘I’m not willing to compromise; I’m not willing to even talk.’ His position is 100 percent of Obamacare must be funded in all instances, and other than that, he’s going to shut the government down.”

About two dozen House members gathered on the steps outside a closed Senate chamber Sunday to draw attention to the Senate’s absence.

“The Senate not being here, Harry Reid is off on his own somewhere, is all the evidence you need to know they want to shut down the government,” said Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark. “I personally believe that Sen. Reid and the president, for political purposes, want to shut down the government.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., insisted Sunday that his party isn’t angling for a shutdown.

“Americans do not want a government shutdown and they do not want Obamacare,” McConnell said.

Democrats maintained that a shutdown is part of the Republican strategy. Former President Bill Clinton, appearing on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” accused House Republicans and the tea party of trying to dictate “over the Senate, over House Democrats, over the speaker of the House of (their) own party and over the president.” He urged Obama to stand firm.

“They’re mad because they don’t want to negotiate. It seems almost spiteful,” said Clinton, who was president during government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996. “There’s nothing to negotiate with. He shouldn’t delay the health care bill. It’s the law. And we’re opening the enrollment on Oct. 1.”

Here’s how lawmakers got to this state:

--The Senate passed a measure Friday to keep the government running through November 15. It got no Republican support;

--The House Sunday voted to keep the government open through Dec. 15, with its plan to delay the health care law,

permanently kill a tax on medical devices that would help finance the law after that; and added a “conscience clause” to the health care law allowing employers to deny women contraception coverage;

--The House and Senate were both in recess Sunday;

When the Senate returns Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., plans to try to “table,” or basically kill, the House plan. That would need 51 votes, which should be easy to get in the Senate, where Democrats control 54 seats.

If as expected the measure is tabled, the budget bill would go back to the House without the changes it approved Sunday—“clean,” in legislative terms. The House would then be pressured to reconsider the Senate plan. If the House agreed before midnight, the government would stay open. If not, parts of the government would shut down.

“I am willing to work with anyone to improve the Affordable Care Act, but changes to the health care law should be debated through an open legislative process, not through a hostage-taking stunt,” said Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who assisted Cruz with his filibuster, suggested that the House and Senate appoint a conference committee with an “equal number of Republicans and Democrats” to work out their differences.

“You could appoint one today; they could meet tomorrow and hash out the differences,” Paul said on “Face the Nation.”

The chances of that happening in today’s harshly-partisan atmosphere on Capitol Hill today are slim.

The number of conference reports, written agreements on legislation negotiated between selected House and Senate members, has dropped from 257 during the 1973-1975 Congress to just 10 during the 2011-2013 Congress.

By William Douglas and David Lightman
McClatchy Washington Bureau