In six days, the federal government will find itself not just shut down, but on the brink of default, and Washington is stumbling its way toward a familiar solution: a short-term reprieve from both fiscal crises. But there is little reason to believe that the temporary relief will make the spending struggles any easier next time, let alone permanently solve DC’s budget battles.
In recent days, both parties have raised the prospect of passing short-term bills to raise the debt limit and reopen the federal government, while also setting the stage for negotiations on a broader solution. Aides in both parties say this course is now the only solution to the current stalemate being seriously considered.
Behind the scenes, Republicans are preparing to move ahead with a short-term increase in the debt limit, potentially without precondition, a significant capitulation given their three-year opposition to raising the borrowing limit without matching spending cuts. The development was Thursday morning in a meeting of the House GOP conference before an afternoon meeting between leadership and President Barack Obama at the White House. House Speaker John Boehner was expected to ask his members for a six-week debt limit increase at the conference meeting, the Associated Press reported Thursday morning.
But it remains to be seen whether the GOP is willing to act swiftly on the less urgent need to reopen the government. Republicans are calling on President Barack Obama to negotiate over budgetary issues before the government reopens, while the president has said he is happy to negotiate—once the government is back open.
But regardless, the fix to the funding crisis will almost certainly be temporary. “All we want is a short term [continuing resolution] because we think the [spending level] is not acceptable,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi after a meeting with Obama at the White House.
Democrats and the White House are not keen on a short-term debt limit deal. “It doesn’t restore confidence… I don’t think it’s a responsible place to go,” Pelosi said Wednesday. But while not ideal, Pelosi and her colleagues said they would support it, “if the alternative is to default.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has introduced a bill to raise the debt limit until after the 2014 midterm elections, setting up votes on the measure later this week. But such a long-term solution, as preferred by the White House, will not be acceptable to Republicans, aides say.
“We would do a six-week reopening of government and, if the Republicans are proposing it we would consider, a short-term debt ceiling extension,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member of the budget committee. “If those are clean.” “We’re not going to vote against making sure that America pays its bills,” Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said simply.
But Republicans and Democrats remain far apart on the underlying issues that precipitated the shutdown, first among them Obamacare. And while that issue has taken a backseat in recent days to the GOP’s focus on broader budgetary reforms, it has not disappeared.
“We’d give the speaker some flexibility on a short-term debt limit increase to keep the focus where it should be, which is on Obamacare,” Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham told reporters Wednesday morning at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “But any CR that doesn’t address Obamacare is something that we’d be very strongly against.”
Democrats, meanwhile, want to undo the deep spending cuts implemented under sequestration, and are divided over potential compromise issues like entitlement reform.
Obama met with House Democrats for more than an hour Wednesday evening, where he encouraged them to hold firm in the face of a wave of piecemeal budgetary measures from Republicans to reopen popular government programs. Democratic members told Obama stories of the ten-day shutdown’s impact in their districts.
Obama is set to meet with the Senate Democratic caucus and with House Republican leadership on Thursday, the White House said.
With reporting by Alex Rogers / Washington.