The Senate passed the House’s short-term continuing resolution today by a vote of 87–13. The bill keeps the government running through April 8 and cuts federal spending by $6 billion.
Nine Republicans (Sens. Crapo, DeMint, Ensign, Hatch, Inhofe, Lee, Paul, Risch, Roberts, and Rubio), three Democrats (Sens. Levin, Murray, and Rockefeller) and one Socialist (Bernie Sanders) voted no.
After the vote, Senate Democratic leaders held a press conference calling on House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) to come to the negotiating table. When the House voted on the bill on Tuesday, 54 conservative and freshman Republicans rebelled, meaning that Boehner needed dozens of Democratic votes in order to pass the bill, a fact that Democrats have been crowing over ever since. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) has been doing his best to rub it in, calling on the Republican leader to “abandon the Tea Party” and work with Democrats and moderate Republicans to negotiate a “reasonable compromise.” The only alternative, Schumer argued, was a government shutdown, for which Boehner would be held responsible.
Republicans, on the other hand, said it was up to Senate Democrats and the White House to put an offer on the table. “Now that we’ve put more time on the clock, I again implore the President and Senate Democrats to give us an offer that can get majority support in the Senate to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year that includes serious spending cuts,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) said in a statement. “We cannot continue to fund the government with a series of band-aids. We need the Democrats and the White House to join us on a long-term measure to fund the government and cut spending so that our economy has the confidence to grow and people can get back to work.”
Aides say negotiations between Boehner and Reid are ongoing, and that the White House “has been involved.” Staff from both their offices met with White House staff on Wednesday afternoon. Both sides seem to agree that they don’t want another short-term spending bill, but have been daring each other to make the first move. Schumer said three weeks was “plenty of time” to come up with a long-term solution that funds the government for the remainder of the fiscal year (through September 30). However, Congress is on recess all next week, so the clock is ticking.
Democrats have said they want “everything on the table” when it comes to working out a long-term deal, specifically “revenue” (tax increases) and “important investment” (more spending) in areas like research and education. Entitlements? Not so much.
They also want to do away with most, if not all, of the policy riders included in the GOP’s long-term spending proposal, H.R. 1, which passed the House earlier this month. In particular, Reid emphasized that a measure to defund Planned Parenthood “won’t be part of an agreement.” Schumer said that Democrats wouldn’t accept any measures that seek to “impose an entire social agenda” through legislation.
Many of the Republicans who voted against the short-term bill, and a number of the conservative groups that urged them to, based their opposition in part on the fact the no policy riders or defunding measures were included. Tensions within the party have been running high, and a fierce debate is being waged in the conservative punditsphere (see here and here, for example). The debate is not so much over policy as it is over how best to proceed politically. GOP leadership has long favored a more measure approach to the spending debate, arguing that short-term resolutions — that keep the government running and cut federal spending — give Republicans the upper hand. Some freshman and conservative members disagree, preferring to “pick a fight” now with Senate Democrats, and willing to risk a government shutdown in the process.
Democrats, however, are even more divided — and, worse, indecisive — on how they want to proceed, which is why many of them have been begging President Obama to get more involved. Even Democratic leadership cannot seem to agree on a single strategy. In the House, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer continue to take opposing sides on spending votes, and in the Senate, Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid appear to be sparring over who is best equipped to lead the party. At Thursday’s press conference, a visibly impatient Schumer stood by as Reid gave his opening remarks, occasionally whispering talking points out of the side of his mouth in Reid’s direction, and the majority leader did not seem too happy about it.
So, as it stand, both sides have their own sets of kinks to work out, and a relatively short amount of time in which to do it — assuming any additional short-term spending resolutions are, in fact, completely off the table. Gee, if only there was some prominent, third-party figure whose job it was to mediate these kinds of disagreements . . .