After August break, a September fire drill? Fiscal crises await Congress.
Congress has nine working days when it returns in September to avert a government shutdown and, soon after, another debt limit crisis. So far, the dealmakers have yet to engage.
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“Any time is a good time for a big deal, a small deal ... and that’s going to depend on a large part of Republican willingness to compromise,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a White House senior adviser, at the Monitor breakfast. “We have to see what the system can bear.”Skip to next paragraph
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Republicans say they, too, are open to a sweeping deal with the White House, but are deeply divided on the terms of the negotiation.
House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio set a new standard for raising the debt limit when, in 2011, he demanded spending cuts equivalent to the amount of the debt-ceiling increase. Republicans in both houses backed this demand and prevailed.
But this year, GOP lawmakers have drawn competing lines in the sand. A group of Senate conservatives, backed by some GOP House members, are refusing to approve funding for the new fiscal year unless Obamacare is defunded, to the last dime. Given the GOP's inability to pass spending bills at its preferred, more austere level of government spending in the near term, it's unclear what kind of long-term spending concessions Republicans could actually wring out of the White House.
Meanwhile, attempts are ongoing to find points of compromise between the White House and a select cadre of Senate Republicans, who have met with the president and Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough in recent days to discuss fiscal issues.
Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, one of this group, says Senate Republicans and the White House could come to a smaller deal to continue government operations by exchanging the sequester cuts for reductions to mandatory spending programs that stand to generate much more of America’s long-term debt or, perhaps, by reaching the sweeping "grand bargain" on fiscal issues that has eluded lawmakers and Obama since 2011.
But Senator Corker and perhaps a half-dozen other senators are matched by a garrulous group of conservative senators with unyielding demands.
This group, led by Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, and Ted Cruz of Texas, objects to the House and Senate attempting to iron out the differences between the budgets of the two chambers, fearing that party leaders will agree to raise the debt ceiling as part of a fiscal deal but won't extract sufficient concessions from the White House.
The same group is demanding that Senate Republicans vote against any government spending bill that includes funding for Obamacare, saying that shutting down the government for some time would be a small price to pay for killing the president’s law.
The trio argues that though their party was politically punished for precipitating two shutdowns in the mid-1990s, the outcome was worth it – and that Republicans who do vote for any legislation that funds Obamacare are guilty of endorsing it.
“There are a great many Republicans who are haunted by the ghost of shutdowns past,” Senator Cruz said at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday. “It is received wisdom in Washington that the 1995 shutdown was terrible for Republicans.... I don’t believe the evidence supports that conclusion.”
“There was some political pain. President Clinton took a two-by-four to the Republicans and scored some political points,” Cruz continued, “but as the result of their standing up for principle, we saw year after year of balanced budgets coming out of Congress.”
House and Senate Republican leaders have avoided weighing in on the Senate conservatives' plan. But several of Cruz’s colleagues say such a plan is either ineffective or would put Republicans on the wrong side of the politics of a government shutdown – or both.