Shutdown Doublespeak

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House and Senate leaders seem to be speaking over each other rather than to one another in the debate over spending cuts that could shutdown the government on March 4 – not a good sign.


House Speaker John Boehner today reiterated his position that the Senate take up the 2011 spending bill passed by the House early Saturday. That measure includes $60 billion in cuts, most of which Senate Democratic leaders have declared dead on arrival in the upper chamber. “If Senator Reid refuses to bring it to a vote, then the House will pass a short-term bill to keep the government running – one that also cuts spending,” Boehner said in a statement. “Republicans’ goal is to cut spending and reduce the size of government, not to shut it down.”

But in a conference call with reporters Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, one of his top deputies, accused Boehner of setting “preconditions” before they could even negotiate the 2011 spending bill. “They want cuts right now on their terms before negotiations take place,” Schumer said. “It’s not an act of good faith. It’s an act of a group who won’t be satisfied with anything less than a government shutdown.”

Reid offered Boehner a clean three-week continuing resolution (CR) funding the government at current levels to give the two chambers time to discuss a longer-term solution.  But Boehner has already said he’d reject any temporary extension at current levels. Reid lamented that much of the negotiating seems to be happening through the press – noting that Boehner has refused to talk to him about long-term cuts. “We want a few weeks to work this out. We realize that a long-term CR is very important to this country  — we can’t do it through the press,” Reid said. “We want to sit down and talk to our Republican colleagues and act like adults.” Reid announced today that he’s asked his chief of staff David Krone to reach out to Boehner’s chief of staff Barry Jackson to begin work on a long-term compromise.

Ironically, Roll Call and CNN reported today that some moderate Senate Dems were considering endorsing cuts above and beyond what Reid wants — $41 billion below President Obama’s 2011 request. Which means a longer-term solution might not be impossible to broker, if Republicans can lure over enough Dem support. That said, getting to those negotiations looks improbable. Finding a long-term solution between now and March 4 is next to impossible given that both chambers are in recess until Feb. 28. Which means a short-term extension will be needed.

When pressed Reid and Schumer wouldn’t rule out a stopgap measure that included some modest cuts. So, much depends on what Boehner produces by the end of the week – or what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposes in the Senate. The challenge will be producing a short-term CR that both appeases Boehner’s freshman class and Senate Dems, a position that both sides aren’t sure exists. And if it doesn’t exist, shutdown here we come.