GOP, Democrat leaders trade blame for budget crisis
WASHINGTON — As the nation moved closer to a government shutdown on Tuesday, the political protagonists traded blame on 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 after voting 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. And President Obama remained out of sight.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin, D-Ill., predicted that when the Senate returns on Monday afternoon, it will reject the House's plan, 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' “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 sooner. Congress will have just 10 hours to avert a shutdown.
“If the Senate stalls until Monday afternoon instead of working (on Sunday), 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.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has spearheaded efforts to force a showdown over the health care law, blamed Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for being stubborn and refusing to compromise.
“So far ... 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 two dozen House members gathered on the steps outside a closed Senate chamber 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 Senator Reid and the president, for political purposes, want to shut down the government.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., insisted 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.”
Here's how Congress got to this state:
• The Senate passed a measure on Friday to keep the government running through Nov. 15. It got no Republican support.
• The House early Sunday voted to keep the government open through Dec. 15, delay the health care law and kill a tax on medical devices that would help finance the law. It added a “conscience clause” to the law that would allow employers to deny women contraception coverage.
• The House and Senate were in recess Sunday. When the Senate returns, Reid plans to try to “table,” or basically kill, the House plan. That would require 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. The House would then be pressured to reconsider the Senate plan. If the House agreed to the measure before midnight, the government would stay open. If not, parts of the government would shut down.