How many members of Congress does it take to change a light bulb?
It’s not the first time the question has been asked, although it’s usually presented as: “How many members of Congress does it take to screw up a light bulb?” Especially by conservatives when the Energy Department issues new light bulb regulations, as it did earlier this year.
But the question today – and it’s not a joke – is how many members of Congress does it take to end the government shutdown now in its sixth day?
The short answer is: a majority of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans. (The Democrat-controlled Senate already has passed a “clean” budget resolution unencumbered by attempts to stymie the new health insurance law known as “Obamacare.”)
According to the House Clerk, there are at present 232 Republicans, 200 Democrats, and 3 vacancies. That means if just 17 Republicans joined all Democrats in voting for a clean C.R. (continuing resolution), a majority of the House would have prevailed, the shutdown would end, and likely the more serious problem – voting to raise the US debt limit before the Oct. 17 deadline – could be solved as well.
But so far, Speaker John Boehner has not allowed that to happen.
On ABC’s “This Week” Sunday he again insisted, “There are not the votes in the House to pass a clean C.R.”
Democrats beg to differ.
“A majority in Congress would do the right thing if given a chance to vote to open the government,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “A majority in Congress would do the right thing if given a chance to let us pay our bills. Congress needs to work, they need to do their job, but the majority needs to be given a chance."
Sen. Chuck Schumer offered Boehner a "friendly challenge."
“Put it on the floor Monday or Tuesday,” Schumer said on ABC. “I would bet there are the votes to pass it. We have just about every Democrat. Twenty-one Republicans have publicly said they would [vote for a clean C.R.]. There are many more who have said privately they would.”
One of those is Rep. Peter King (R) of New York, who criticizes his own party for going along with a bad strategy: tying government funding to Obamacare.
“We don’t defund a law that we don’t like,” King said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If we want to defund something, we should repeal it, and we do it by the same way the president got it signed – elect Republicans to both houses of Congress, repeal it, and then have a Republican president signing it. At this rate, this was a strategy doomed to failure….”
It’s gotten to the point, writes Daily Beast executive editor John Avlon, where what’s needed is a hostage negotiator to crack the congressional impasse over government spending and Obamacare. (And ultimately, the debt ceiling.)
Christopher Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, faults both the Republican congressional leadership and President Obama for failure in negotiating skills.
So what advice would the professional hostage negotiator give Speaker John Boehner, who has been frequently accused of being held hostage by 40 or so House radicals, Avalon asks?
“Find a way to declare victory and go home,” Voss answers. “Start to list the wins that you actually had. Start to recalibrate to where you want to be in the next sequence of moves instead of trying to go the whole distance in one phase.”
“Start using messaging that ‘we’re after what’s in the best interests of the American people,’” he says “You’re challenging other people to engage and that’s a dialogue. At the same time, if they fail to do so, then they’re the ones who look unreasonable. And you have at that point time to reset the game.”
But not a lot of time.
The government shutdown is costing the government and now private businesses untold millions of dollars a day. (Lockheed Martin says it will furlough 3,000 employees on Monday due to the government shutdown. United Technologies Corp. announced that it will furlough 2,000 employees by Monday and more than 5,000 if the shutdown continues into next month.)
Meanwhile, breaking that debt ceiling deadline – which Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said Sunday could cause credit markets to freeze, the value of the dollar to plummet, and US interest rates to skyrocket – is just eleven days away.