WASHINGTON – As the nation moved closer to a government shutdown Tuesday, the political protagonists traded blame Sunday over whose fault it will be if federal employees are furloughed and some federal services are closed.
The Republican-controlled House was in recess Sunday after voting overnight 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 p.m. Monday. President Barack Obama remained out of sight Sunday.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., predicted that when the Senate returns on Monday afternoon it will reject the House’s plan and then send the budget – minus a delay in the health care law or any other add-ons – back to the House.
“It’s going to be rejected again and we’re going to face the prospect of shutting down, again,” Durbin said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, accused the Senate of trying to milk the shutdown clock – which tolls at midnight Monday – by not taking up the House measure until Monday. That would give 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 written 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 the train wreck that is the president’s health care law.”
The Sauk Valley’s legislators in Washington didn’t necessarily agree on how to get there, but after Friday’s Senate vote, both Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, on Sunday reinforced the need to avert a shutdown.
While Bustos has supported implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Kinzinger has said he wants to repeal Obamacare but is unwilling to defund the health care reform and shut down the government in the process.
Bustos, in no uncertain terms, said she believed the Senate bill should have been embraced.
“It’s sad day for our country that some in Washington seem determined to force a shutdown of the government just to get their way,” Bustos stated in a news release. “Reasonable lawmakers of both parties, governors across the country, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce along with hundreds of other business organizations, support the Senate-passed bill that would avert a harmful government shutdown. We had an opportunity to send that bill to the president last night, but radical ideology won the day.”
Bustos said that a deal is doable if partisanship and ideology are put aside.
“I was elected, in part, because people back home in Illinois are sick and tired of politicians that opt to play games instead of governing. We should be able to work through our differences together and find a common sense, reasonable solution to avoid a shutdown.”
Kinzinger voiced his concerns on his Twitter page Sunday: “Early this morning, the House acted to delay Obamacare and avert a government shutdown. The #SenateMustAct now to keep the government funded,” he tweeted. “Americans don’t want Obamacare and don’t want a government shutdown. The #SenateMustAct.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has spearheaded efforts to force a showdown over the health care 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 said on 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 2 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,” 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.”
How Congress got here:
— The Senate passed a measure Friday to keep the government running through Nov. 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, Reid 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., suggested 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 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.
–Sauk Valley Media contributed to this report.