Rep. Van Hollen: “No Clear End” to Budget Battle

The first government shutdown since 1996 is all but certain come Tuesday morning

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Michael Bonfigli /The Christian Science Monitor)

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said there is “no clear end point” to the current fiscal battles, indicating that the first government shutdown since 1996 is all but certain come Tuesday morning.

Van Hollen, speaking at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast at a Washington D.C. hotel, called on Speaker John Boehner to stop kowtowing to the most conservative elements of the Republican party. “If we had a vote in the House of Representatives today on the clean continuing resolution that is coming out of the Senate, it would pass,” said Van Hollen, referring to the government funding legislation passed by the Senate Friday that keeps current spending levels constant through mid-November. “The only thing standing in the way of keeping the government open would be the refusal of the Speaker to allow [that] vote.”

The House may have that opportunity Monday night, after the Senate rejects Monday afternoon the House proposal. That resolution, passed Sunday morning, would continue federal spending through mid-December, while delaying for a year the use of federal funds to carry out the Affordable Care Act.

In one sign of the depths of the inter-party dysfunction, Van Hollen said that the Democrats are currently learning what the Speaker is proposing through his press releases. After the House Republicans hit the Democratically-controlled Senate for not convening Sunday a few days before the October 1 funding deadline, Van Hollen struck back at Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for controlling the House. Sen. Cruz led a 21-hour speech in favor of the House proposal last week, and moved behind the scenes to oppose Speaker Boehner’s plan to use the debt limit instead of the government shutdown as leverage in extracting concessions.

“Senator Cruz is essentially running the show in the House of Representatives,” said Van Hollen. “If Speaker Boehner doesn’t want to assert some leadership he should go ahead and turn the gavel over to Speaker Cruz.”

Van Hollen doesn’t believe that the Tea Party fervor will simmer after a government funding resolution is passed. Instead, he thinks that the upcoming negotiations over the October 17 debt-limit deadline will prove to be of an even higher pitch.

“A lot of these Tea Party Republicans are going to double down on trying to defund Obamacare on the debt ceiling,” said Van Hollen. “Which goes from a really risky and irresponsible move to a downright dangerous move with respect to the full faith and credit of the United States.” The House Budget Committee Chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), told National Review that he thinks it is preferable for the current fight to roll into the debt limit talks. “I like combining all of our leverage, which is sequester and the debt limit,” Ryan said.