Republican House Speaker John Boehner made clear following Tuesday’s meeting with President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that no deal was in place. He called cuts sought by the White House and Senate Democrats “gimmicks,” and insisted in a statement that “policy provisions must be part of any final agreement, because the American people are concerned, not just about how much we’re spending, but also how we’re spending.”
Obama, who took to the White House podium, cast a stern but more hopeful message that a deal will be reached by Friday to fund government through Sept. 30, end of the fiscal year.
“We are now closer than we have every been to getting an agreement. There is no reason why we should not get an agreement,” Obama said. “The only question is whether politics or ideology are going to get in the way and cause a government shutdown.”
Congress has already passed two continuing resolutions to fund government while working on a final spending plan. The president said a final
agreement is needed, not another continuing resolution.”We’ve already done that twice. We did it once for two weeks and we did another for three weeks. That is not a way to run a government,” he said.
Welch said Democrats have made “enormous compromises,” and have agreed to “almost $90 billion” in cuts. “Yet, the Republicans are insisting that’s not enough. So at a certain point you have to start asking if this is about solving a problem or forcing an ideological agenda,” he said.
Some tea party-backed GOP lawmakers may look to attach controversial policy “riders” in another continuing resolution, Welch said. One policy floating in the halls of Congress would eliminate abortions in Washington, D.C., he said.
“That’s something that I’ve heard discussed in connection with a one-week (continuing resolution),” Welch said. “They want to use this as leverage to win ideological policy arguments. Mr. Boehner just has to contend with some tea party folks that would find a government shutdown as worth doing.”
Meanwhile, Vermont’s independent junior senator, Bernie Sanders, speaking Tuesday on “The Ed Schultz Radio Show,” said a meeting among Senate Democrats was “very hot.”
“I think what a strong majority are now saying is we’ve got to get on the offensive. That means that we’re not going to sit back and allow our Republican friends to decimate Head Start, children’s programs, nutrition programs, the Social Security Administration, Pell grants, college students, the Environmental Protection Agency. We need a plan of our own to contrast very strongly what [Wisconsin Rep.] Paul Ryan, Boehner and the Republican leadership is proposing. Bottom line — I think what more and more Democrats are talking about is the need for shared sacrifice,” Sanders said.
In the radio interview, Sanders said he is hearing more conservative Democrats are now calling for wealthier Americans to also make sacrifices. “Whether that gets translated into action remains to be seen,” he said.
A shutdown remains likely, Sanders said. “I think the odds are even money. To my mind, I mean I certainly hope not, because a shutdown would hurt our overall economy, it will hurt a lot of individual people, so I certainly hope not,” he said.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, said a small group in Congress will not allow the gap between the GOP and Democrats to be closed.
“There already have been several rounds of budget cuts by now. Despite the continued willingness of the president and many in Congress to find common ground, an ideological bloc in Congress continues to insist on their way or no way,” he said. “Some even relish the idea of a government shutdown, despite the disruption and harm that would mean for the American people, and especially for those who are struggling the most. Though they are a minority, they have the leverage to trample the interests of everyone else.”
The possibility of a shutdown “is very real because these relative few are willing to play politics and brinksmanship at a time when the public is crying out for statesmanship,” Leahy said. “If they continue to prevent an agreement, they will get what they want.”
Welch said he believes an agreement can be reached if lawmakers consider cuts to all parts of the federal budget.
“We could get to the Republican number easily and quickly if we put everything on the table, but they’re insisting the Pentagon be exempt and tax breaks for oil companies … to be exempt,” Welch said. “It’s very dangerous what’s happening here. We’re playing with fiscal fire.”
Contact Neal P. Goswami at email@example.com