In Rare Dose of Comity, Congress Takes Early Steps to Avoid Government Shutdown

The House Republican stopgap bill locks in the sequester cuts while cushioning their impact on party priorities.

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

A tourist takes cover underneath an umbrella while snapping a photo of the U.S. Capitol as snow and rain falls in Washington, March 6, 2013.

Congressional leaders in both parties say they have no interest in shutting down the government when its funding expires late this month. Recent history suggests we should therefore be nervous it will happen. For the past two years Congress has jumped from one avoidable crisis to another, and even the shrewdest politicians seem no better than armchair pundits at predicting the next fumble by our dysfunctional government. Barack Obama vowed that sequestration “will not happen.” On the campaign trail, Paul Ryan railed against the policy, calling its impact “devastating.” When the sequester arrived, Republicans welcomed it with open arms.

But this time may be different. While the budget brinkmanship will surely return, the Capitol was visited this week by something rarer than the winter storm that blew through Washington on Wednesday: comity in Congress. With three weeks until a March 27 deadline to avert a government shutdown, the House on Wednesday passed a Republican stopgap bill that would supply funding through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

In a victory for hard-line conservatives, the legislation would fund government departments at the lower spending levels enacted by the sequester. It also cushions sequestration’s impact on several Republican priorities, most notably the Pentagon, which would be afforded a full-year budget and greater flexibility to implement the cuts. In addition, the so-called continuing resolution protects against furloughs for Customs and Border Patrol staffers, adds up to $2 billion in embassy security — a conservative concern in the wake of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last fall — and extends the pay freeze for federal workers.

(MORE: The Sequester Fight Was the Pregame. Here Comes the Main Event)

Fifty-three House Democrats joined their Republican colleagues to support the measure, which passed by a count of 267 to 151. In a sign that its success was inevitable, the House’s No. 2 Democrat, Steny Hoyer, told reporters Tuesday that while he recommended a ‘no’ vote, he would not whip against it. After weeks of warning that sequestration’s $85 billion in automatic spending cuts would wreak havoc on the economy, Democrats acknowledged that the continuing resolution — once viewed as a vehicle to undo the sequester — will instead lock in lower spending levels. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll reach a deal before we leave here for the Easter recess,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters. “So what remains to be seen is whether this move…is truly a shift in the strategy from Republicans, or just a short break from extremism.”

Next week the Senate will attempt to pass a resolution of their own that offers similar flexibility to as-yet unspecified Democratic priorities. “Senate Democrats are going to want to have some imprint on the version of the continuing resolution that comes over from the House. We anticipate that. What I believe will happen is that they’ll be in discussion with the House during the process,” said Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. “We’d like to develop an endgame where whatever provisions are added in the Senate also pass the House.” In a statement of administration policy, the White House said it was “deeply concerned” about the cuts but did not threaten to veto the legislation.

The upshot is Congressional Republicans have successfully dragged the fiscal debate to the right even amid signs that the Tea Party ardor is cooling on topics like gays, guns and perhaps even immigration. It wasn’t long ago that Republicans were making noises about repositioning the party in the wake of Obama’s re-election. Potential presidential candidates like Bobby Jindal were warning that the narrow focus on slashing government spending had alienated vast segments of the voting public. Even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who spent the 112th Congress harnessing the Tea Party fervor for austerity, was said to be steering his charges “beyond the endless, and politically fruitless, discussion about debt [and] deficits,” as the New York Times reported just over a month ago. By reordering the cascade of fiscal crises facing Congress this spring, Republicans nabbed hard-won spending cuts over Democratic objections, and, at least so far, without sustaining much short-term damage from voters. Instead of ebbing, the GOP’s push for austerity shows signs of strengthening. Next week the party will reintroduce Paul Ryan’s budget, a document that calls for even deeper spending cuts than in years past, because it calls for the federal budget to be balanced within 10 years instead of 30.

(MORE: Congress Looks Past the Sequester Deadline and Braces for Long Fight)

This grim reality has frustrated Democrats, who have yet to figure out a way to neutralize the House GOP’s intransigence. “At some point in time, you have to tell the hostage-takers we’re not paying the ransom,” Hoyer said. “A shutdown is stupid policy, but the sequester is stupid policy. We’re doing stupid things here.”

9 comments
forgottenlord
forgottenlord

So if I'm reading this correctly, the House passed a CR that keeps everything the same except the parts of the sequester that hurts Democrats.  In other words, Republicans sacrificed nothing while expecting Democrats to sacrifice a lot?  That's comity.....how?

the7thcircuit
the7thcircuit

Not wanting to cut off their OWN pay-checks, one of the VERY FEW things the gov. can actually agree on, bunch of filibusters...  

grape_crush
grape_crush

> In Rare Dose of Comity, Congress Takes Early Steps to Avoid Government Shutdown

House Republicans haven't had much of an issue getting their legislation through the House. Problem has been the reconciliation bills coming back from the Senate for House approval.

We'll see how nicely the House Republicans play when they are being asked to approve items that align with Democratic priorities or cut the supposedly Republican concerns regarding military and law enforcement.


gysgt213
gysgt213

Rare dose of comity.  Right.

GOP lawmakers reintroduced a bill Tuesday to repeal the contraception mandate. They also pressed their party’s leaders to roll back the provision as part of a continuing resolution later this month to keep the federal government operating.

“This attack on religious freedom demands immediate congressional action,” the 14 lawmakers wrote. “Nothing short of a full exemption for both nonprofit and for-profit entities will satisfy the demands of the Constitution and common sense.”

The continuing resolution that House appropriators released Monday would not cut off funding for the Affordable Care Act, despite years of conservative pressure to defund the healthcare law. But Tuesday’s letter, led by Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), indicates that fights over the health law could still roil the funding debate.


http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/03/05/1675731/house-republicans-birth-control-shutdown/

PerryWhite1
PerryWhite1

@forgottenlord It's not, it's just the usual GOP insistence that their agenda be implemented, despite losing election after election and polls showing huge numbers of Americans opposing it. It's party/politics/self-protection over country, again and again and again.


I really wish we had a national press that would address this and every topic with traditional journalistic skepticism. In other words, I wish they'd call a spade a spade, and stop repeating talking points. This headline should reflect the content -- GOP again tries to force its agenda down our throats -- instead of framing it as "a rare moment of comity."

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@gysgt213 .Maybe they think having a woman do it will provide a Trojan horse for their continuing war on ladyparts.

I guess since they got away with being elected to produce jobs last time and then spending most of their time trying to repeal the ACA and other nonsense, they can just keep on keeping on. 

I don't think anything will stop them until there is a national non-partisan redistricting. Don't think that will happen in my lifetime, however.

FuzzyPotato
FuzzyPotato

@PerryWhite1 @forgottenlord then what you're proposing just makes the news what you want to hear.  Congratulations, you're now part of the problem.  Granted, I am conservative, but I hate Fox News because of its bias (same goes with MSNBC).  If you have news become nothing more than preaching to the selected choir, then why bother with wanting a two-party dialog?

PerryWhite1
PerryWhite1

@FuzzyPotato @PerryWhite1 @forgottenlord You misunderstand me. I want a national press that assumes that politicians are lying to them, instead of acting like stenographers. I would want this to apply to both parties not only equally, but aggressively. 

In the case above, the reporter passively accepted the framing of the event the way a political party wanted it framed. I don't care which party it was that had this reporter carrying their water. It shouldn't happen. The reporter should have been more independent, more skeptical, more interested in truth than any other factor.

And the problem is that it isn't just the reporter. It's the entire Washington press corps, which walks in lock step. It doesn't matter what channel you watch, the talking points from one party or another are still the way the discussions are framed. And, as a lifelong journalist, it burns me up.