THIRD DAY: Parties Continue Partisan Rhetoric
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Democrats and Republicans held their ground on Thursday, the third day of the federal government shutdown, refusing to budge from their positions about who is to blame for the crisis and how to resolve it.
Leaders from the two parties offered rhetoric similar to what they’ve been saying for days, providing little hope for a breakthrough tied to Congress’ inability to agree on a spending plan for President Barack Obama to sign.
This is despite face-to-face talks Wednesday night involving Obama and congressional leaders, a meeting Obama called “useful,” House Speaker John Boehner deemed “polite” and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described as “worthwhile.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell characterized it, though, as “unproductive,” an assessment seemingly backed up by the continuing partisan rhetoric on Thursday.
The debate was halted Thursday by a shooting near Capitol Hill, which prompted a temporary lockdown. When it lifted, members of both parties came together on the House floor to thank responding police officers — though few expected this unanimity to last long.
For weeks, a conservative wing of the Republican Party has demanded that any spending measure include provisions to dismantle or defund Obamacare, which became law in 2010 and was upheld by the Supreme Court last year.
Boehner has followed that model in the House, refusing to let representatives vote on a full spending bill without add-ons, even while pushing through measures to fund popular programs separately. Democrats have refused to go along with this approach, as they’ve instead accused Republicans of harming government workers, those who rely on government programs and the economy generally by insisting that any spending bill include provisions targeting the president’s signature health care reform, the Affordable Care Act.
Those critics are led by Obama, who derided the GOP strategy as “reckless” in a speech Thursday in Rockville, Maryland. He predicted that the Democratic-led Senate’s “clean” version of a short-term spending plan to fund the government — without anti-Obamacare add-ons — would pass the House with support from Democrats and some Republicans, if only it were put up for a vote.
“The only thing that is keeping the government shut down, the only thing preventing people from going back to work and basic research starting back up and farmers and small-business owners getting their loans, the only thing that’s preventing all that from happening right now, today, in the next five minutes, is that Speaker John Boehner won’t even let the bill get a yes-or-no vote because he doesn’t want to anger the extremists in his party,” Obama said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was part of the Democratic chorus Thursday, accusing Boehner of reneging on an agreement to let the House vote on a “clean” spending package of $988 billion, $70 billion less than Democrats wanted). Boehner went back on that deal, Reid surmised in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, because he feared fellow Republicans would turn on him and oust him from his position as House speaker.
“His job is not as important as our country,” Reid said. “… He has to have some courage.”
Cantor: GOP should stand its ground
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor urged his GOP colleagues to maintain their stand, issuing a memo that called the position of Obama and Democrats “untenable.”
House Republicans would continue passing piecemeal funding measures for popular programs such as veterans affairs, national parks and medical research to keep up pressure on Senate Democrats who refuse to consider such measures in the ongoing stalemate, Cantor’s memo said.
“While no one can predict with certainty how the current shutdown will be resolved, I am confident that if we keep advancing commonsense solutions to the problems created by the shutdown that Senate Democrats and President Obama will eventually agree to meaningful discussions that would allow us to ultimately resolve this impasse,” Cantor said in the memo that a GOP source made available to CNN.
A conversation between two conservative GOP senators showed that Republicans think they can win the debate. In the comments caught by live microphone, tea party-backed Sen. Rand Paul tells his Kentucky GOP colleague McConnell that continuing to hammer Democrats for refusing to consider GOP proposals would eventually succeed.
Proposal from moderates
Meanwhile, two moderate House members — one Republican and one Democrat — proposed a compromise Thursday that would fund the government for six months while eliminating a tax on medical devices in the health care reforms.
Senate Democrats quickly rejected the idea because it would link the health care reform provision to the need to fund the government now while extending deep mandatory budget cuts they oppose for half of the new fiscal year.
Instead, Obama and fellow Democrats have said they want to negotiate a broad budget deal that could include tax reforms and other matters. But they’re willing to engage in such talks only after the government reopens.
In his speech, Obama urged Congress to “pass a budget that funds our government with no partisan strings attached.” He also called on Republicans to support raising the federal debt ceiling, which must be increased by October 17 so that the United States does not default on its obligations.
“As reckless as a government shutdown is, an economic shutdown that results from default would be dramatically worse,” Obama said, noting that Social Security checks and disability benefits would be affected.
“There will be no negotiations over this,” the president said.