Less than a day into the partial government shutdown, it’s unclear just what breaks the stalemate between House Republicans and the Senate Democrats aligned with President Obama.
House Republicans took a step on Tuesday to ease the friction, with a plan to pass short-term measures that would reopen the National Parks Service, the Veterans Affairs Department, and the local District of Columbia government.
Democrats scoffed at the strategy, after having already rejected a GOP plan hatched on Monday night to force the two chambers into a conference committee to reconcile their differences.
“There is not any excuse for leaving some employees behind, while you take care of others,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD). President Obama pledged to veto any of these House Republican spending bills.
So the first government shutdown in 17 years continues with plenty of grand-standing but few solutions, threatening to leave more than 700,000 federal employees without paychecks and millions of taxpayers without basic services.
The White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) refuse to bargain away Obamacare for a bill that only funds the government for several weeks, ensuring a repeat of the current breakdown around Christmas. The pressure to restart the government will only build as Oct. 17 draws near and the government faces a potential default unless Congress raises the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling.
Asked how long the standoff might last, White House press secretary Jay Carney was unable to give a straightforward answer.
“We are obviously concerned about the impacts of the shutdown,” Carney said. “We hope that the House Republicans listen to the suggestions of members of their own party, as well as the president and others.”
Here are three factors that could decide when the government reopens:
* GOP Must Go Bigger – “Today, our government has big problems,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said in a Tuesday floor speech. “The only way these problems are going to be resolved, is if we sit down amicably and keep the American people in mind and come to an agreement.”
That is accurate.
But Obama and Senate Democrats have no reason to yield to any Republican demands, if the only benefit they get is re-opening the government for a few months. The Democrats are willing to come to the bargaining table if they don’t have to keep going back to it.
“As I’ve said repeatedly, I am prepared to work with Democrats and Republicans to do the things we need to do to grow the economy and create jobs, and get our fiscal house in order over the long run,” Obama said Tuesday in a Rose Garden speech.
The president is saying that the GOP must package a multi-year budget deal that provides some upside to Democrats. So far, Republicans are only thinking in terms of a continuing resolution that goes until Dec. 15.
* An FAA-Like Outrage Must Occur – Flash back to last spring, when the sequestration cuts began and flights were delayed for hours as the air traffic control system broke down.
Congress snapped into action and shifted funds meant to repair airports to keeping Federal Aviation Administration employees from getting furloughed. If the public outcry is large enough, Congress will change course. “Americans were rightly fed up, and it’s unfortunate that the House and Senate were forced to step in and fix the problem when the President chose not to act,” Boehner said at the time.
Lawmakers respond to public pressure when government incompetence actively makes voters’ lives much more difficult. Obama even retreated on his requirement that an alternative for all of the sequestration cuts be in place. He signed the bill, even though he had concluded that “what we’ve done is we’ve said, in order to avoid delays this summer, we’re going to ensure delays for the next two or three decades.”
* Someone Wants to Save the EPA – Republicans claim they opposed a government shutdown, but it’s tough to imagine that many of them are crying into their pillow over furloughs for 96 percent of the staff at the Housing and Urban Development Department, 94 percent at the Education Department, 94 percent at the Environmental Protection Agency, 87 percent of the Commerce Department, and 61 percent of the Energy Department.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)—who helped provoke the shutdown—campaigned last year on abolishing many of these cabinet-level agencies.
"We need to eliminate unnecessary and unconstitutional agencies like the Department of Education ... the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the National Endowment of the Arts,” Cruz said at a Tea Party rally, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Well, in that case with the shutdown, mission accomplished. The agencies that conservatives support are enduring minimal furloughs. This could be a pressure point for Democrats to capitulate … or evidence that the shutdown—much like almost all of the sequestration cuts—will be with us longer than we would like.