No one's steering in Capitol as funding vehicle heads for cliff
WASHINGTON — President Obama couldn't get Democrats to go along on Syria. House Speaker John Boehner couldn't get fellow Republicans to go along on a budget bill.
The one man who has proved he can cut deals with the White House, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is consumed by a tough re-election bid.
It's enough to have Americans asking: Who's running Washington?
With the chances growing of a U.S. government shutdown on Oct. 1 and the danger of debt default after that, the leadership vacuum is raising the risk that no one has the clout to head off those calamities.
“It is a scary place to be,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Time is short. The House has just five workdays scheduled before a Sept. 30 deadline to pass a government funding bill. No legislation is ready, because some Republicans rejected the first try offered by their leaders. Those leaders may cancel a planned weeklong break starting Sept. 23 to make time for talks.
“I don't exactly have control of the steering wheel, and I'm not sure any one individual does, even Speaker Boehner,” said Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., who's among those opposing the leadership budget proposal.
Without such legislation, the government loses authority to spend after this month. Payments to contractors would stop, federal workers would be furloughed, and programs not deemed essential would be disrupted.
The four top leaders of the House and Senate held a rare joint meeting on Thursday to discuss their plans to address those issues. They exited the meeting with no sign of progress.
With that kind of stalemate, the way ahead is unclear. In past years, the leaders have found ways to reach an agreement and drag their reluctant caucuses along, even if it comes down to a last-minute deal.
There is room for compromise: Most Republicans say they hope to avoid a government shutdown, as do Obama and the Democrats, and few in Congress say letting the country default on its borrowing is a good idea.
It's just not clear it'll work out that way this time.
“They don't have an answer right now,” said Tom Davis, a Republican strategist and former Virginia congressman. “The determination of a majority of members is to get there. Once you look under the hood, it's not very pretty watching this thing unravel.”
Boehner acknowledged he is frustrated with efforts to resolve the government funding fight in a way that would satisfy the Tea Party wing of his caucus.
“Do you have an idea?” he joked with reporters this week, according to the Politico website. “They'll just shoot it down anyway.”