Today promises to be a pivotal day in negotiations over a long-term deal to cut spending and avoid a government shutdown. The current continuing resolution expires on midnight Friday, and by the new rules set by the Republican majority, the House must wait three calendar days between introducing a bill and voting on it. That means that members of Congress need to post a bill by the end of the day. (The Republicans’ definition of “calendar day” allows for today, tomorrow, and Friday to count as the three days.)
But despite mounting pressure on both sides to reach a compromise — and an attempted intervention by President Obama yesterday — a deal does not seem particularly close. Both chambers of Congress, as well as the White House, have issued formal instructions to staff on how to prepare for a shutdown.
This morning, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) continued his assault on House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), saying “there is a glimmer of hope” that a shutdown can be avoided — as long as Boehner does not give in to the “extreme” demands of the Tea Party.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) continued to criticize the GOP. “Every time we agree to meet in the middle, they move where the middle is,” he said on the Senate floor this morning. “It’s like trying to kick a field goal and the whole goalpost keeps moving.” Reid was presumably referring to a recent announcement by Boehner that it would take $40 billion in cuts — not just $33 billion, the number to which Democrats claim he’d already agreed — to get him to sign another continuing resolution.
Schumer indicated that Democrats could not accept anything more that $33 billion, which he said was already “starting to cut into the bone. . . . We think [$33 billion] is a fair number.”
A group of moderate Senate Democrats today sent a letter to Boehner urging him to “resolve” the debate and avert a government shutdown.
In response to Reid’s remarks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) quickly responded that it was Democrats who are “rooting for a shutdown.”
Boehner will address the GOP conference this afternoon, likely in order to gauge support for a compromise. Republicans have already prepared a one-week continuing resolution, which includes $12 billion in spending cuts but also fully funds the Defense Department for the remainder of the fiscal year, that they could try to pass in the event that talks break down further. GOP leadership aides insist that they are keeping “all options open” (including waiving the three-day requirement) and seem fairly confident that they would have enough Republican votes to pass another short-term resolution, despite the open revolt that occurred over the last short-term spending bill. Democrats, including the White House, have said they would oppose the bill.
One source close to the negotiations says today’s planned vote in the Senate on a measure to strip the EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouse gasses could have a significant impact on the budget talks. House Republicans included a similar measure, or “rider,” in their long-term spending package, H.R. 1, that many would like to be included in a final deal.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), who supports the EPA measure, has said that as many as 15 Democrats would vote in favor. If this happens, the source says, the House rider, or something like it, could make its way into spending deal, which “would probably go a long way.”