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December 17, 2014

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Harry Reid, John Boehner square off over government shutdown

As budget deadline nears, Reid and Boehner strain to frame battle on their terms

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

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House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, accompanied by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., speaks to reporters after their closed GOP caucus meeting ahead of President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner have locked themselves into a trillion-dollar game of chicken as lawmakers gear up for the final days of a budget showdown. The stakes aren’t as much whether the government will shut down — as who is going to take the blame if it happens.

At issue is $61 billion: the amount the Republican-led House approved stripping out of the federal budget for the rest of fiscal 2011.

That proposal, which pulls funding from Pell Grants and renewable energy, but preserves it for oil, natural gas and Yucca Mountain, has been a nonstarter with Reid. But he doesn’t have much wiggle room.

Boehner, who is under intense pressure from the Tea Party wing of his party, is telling Reid to toe the line or take the blame for letting the lights go out à la 1995, when Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton both dug in so fiercely on budget cuts that the federal government went offline for about three weeks.

It’s a specter party leaders on both sides warn against.

“We need to cut government spending, that’s no longer debatable. The debate isn’t about whether we cut, it’s about how we cut,” said Reid, who has proposed a 30-day measure to buy time to negotiate — a suggestion Republicans rejected. “But they’re refusing to come to the table at all ... they’re saying ‘it’s our way or the highway.’ We cannot afford a government shutdown.”

“Read my lips,” Boehner said. “We are going to cut spending,” adding that Democrats were at fault for “threatening to shut down the government rather than to cut spending and to follow the will of the American people.”

But fear of a shutdown might not be what it was 15 years ago.

“The nation has finally come to grips with the fact that government spending is out of control,” Republican activist Chuck Muth of Nevada said. “If Republicans get their messaging right, I’m not sure a government shutdown will be a negative.”

Conservative figures such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have gone so far as to say they would welcome a government shutdown as the first step in contending with the country’s debt. The country is expected to crash into the debt ceiling sometime in April, which would have the same effect of shutting down nonessential services, furloughing federal employees and cutting off government checks for any program that isn’t in surplus.

Tea Party figures in Congress say they won’t vote for anything that doesn’t reflect their cuts.

Boehner appears to be taking their threat seriously: On Wednesday, he proposed a two-week budget extension to allow time for compromise — provided lawmakers cut $4 billion off the budget for those two weeks.

Reid spokesman Jon Summers blasted it as a “prorated version of the same reckless proposal.”

As lawmakers shoot down each other’s proposals, the moment of reckoning is fast approaching: After March 4 federal funding will run out, leaving lawmakers five working days to come to some sort of agreement that can eke out a majority in both houses of Congress.

Even on a rushed schedule, it will take at least a few days for the Senate to make changes to what the House passed, not to mention the negotiations that have to happen to resolve the two versions.

The situation is colored by the need for both party leaders to hold onto hard-won political ground — not just for this Congress, but also their political fates in 2012.

Boehner wants to hold onto the fealty of the Tea Party without losing the rest of his party.

In the past few weeks the more conservative GOP House members have shown they are willing to hang Boehner and his leadership team out to dry if they don’t like the party’s line. It won’t be so easy for Boehner to cater to them when not all House GOP members want to risk a shutdown to hold their political ground.

“Actually, I don’t think it’s that bad an idea,” Rep. Dean Heller told a Las Vegas television station regarding Reid’s proposal for a 30-day extension to buy time to negotiate. Heller has broken rank with Boehner over votes on the Patriot Act and Yucca Mountain funding.

“If both sides can’t come to an agreement, I think we ought to extend this thing for a couple of weeks so we can continue negotiations,” he said. “I just don’t want to see this government shut down.”

For Reid, winning the budget battle means regaining the policy driver’s seat, which he seemed to have all but lost in December, when Obama was making tax deals directly with the Republicans in the name of urgency.

Despite the clock ticking on a government shutdown — agencies have begun to prepare for it — Obama seems to be sitting this battle out. He’s focusing instead on the fiscal 2012 budget he released two weeks ago.

“Democrats definitely have the upper hand. Republicans are doing a lousy job because their message is divided,” Muth said. Boehner is “on probation. He’s not known as a movement conservative, so he’s not going to get the benefit of the doubt ... Reid’s got a lot less to lose.”

But Reid’s running a tough message, even for a seasoned statesman. Democrats haven’t actually offered any cuts below current government funding levels. His caucus isn’t speaking with one voice either. Some in his party say they would vote for some of the Republicans’ cuts.

While he wrangles his caucus Reid also needs to keep control of the messaging war on the competing dollar figures involved.

“The country’s been looking at 12-figure price tags on a lot of these pieces of legislation,” Nevada Republican strategist Robert Uithoven said. “Sixty-one billion to a lot of people isn’t that much money, especially in the context of what was passed in the previous Congress. I’d rather be in Speaker Boehner’s shoes at this time, than Sen. Reid’s.”

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  1. What's reckless is the way Dumbocrats have been spending money we don't have for the past 2+ years! As for the budget, where have these Dumbocrats been? They were solely in charge until American voters wisely put the brakes on them in the November elections. They could have easily passed a budget, yet they just sat on their hands! They did little to nothing about jobs, massive foreclosures, a crashing economy and soaring bankruptcies. They were too busy demonizing the TEA Party & passing bills such as health care that will further strangle the economy and give greater power to unelected bureacrats to control our lives! A pox on the Dumbocrats!

  2. Reid is a punch drunk idiot. Period full stop!!!!!!

  3. Another tantrum, Jerry?
    Typical rhetoric from the lemmings that follow fox...
    "You guys spend to much! wah! wah! waaaah!"
    "We're 'fiscal conservatives', wise stewards of YOUR tax dollars!" Don't make me laugh, Jerry.

    Quit playing politics and
    PASS THE EXTENSION.

  4. Everybody is blaming the Democrats for spending, when in fact it is the reckless spending of the Republicants that got us here in the first (Bush's policies) place. They caused this fiasco and refuse to clean it up or stop the foolish spending. They choose to blame it on the Democrats. This is typical Republicant propaganda. Say it isn't me and blame the other guy. The Republicants will not cut spending unless their is legislation to provide tax loopholes for the wealthy.

  5. Yes, the last few years have been difficult. I question the conclusion that the voters wanted to have cuts at the expense of women and the poor. The economy, stupid, is a bigger part of it. And GW and Ronnie were superstars when it came to racking up large deficits. They belong in the hall of fame. Negotiate, recall the teaparty folks because they have not solved all of our problems so far. Ok, be happy!

  6. Hey Fink - you don't remember the additional $7 Trillion Bush added to the National Debt when he left office? $4 Trillion for the Iraq war, including civilian expenditures - a war created without a single justification and you say nothing.

    Hey Fink - what about the mortage and banking debacal that crashed the stock market in 2008 and also destroyed the American automobile Industry? The MASSIVE MORTGAGE FAILURE was already in process when BUSH left office.

    Your complaining is about spending to help people out of the greatest disaster since 1929. What is clear is that Republicans help only the wealthy, the corporations that don't pay taxes, and not people. They are twisted with greed.

  7. The Tea Party is funded in part by the Koch brothers, worth $30 billion or more. They have said, at their Palm Springs conference last December, that "they can't trust a Democracy". The wealthy in this country DO NOT NEED a Democracy, as it only costs them money. Their life is money, your life is a tax problem.

    The Tea Party never complained about Wall Street or the Liars Loans made by banks because that's where their money comes from. They are pure hypocrisy and theatrics.

  8. Goldman Sachs (Hardly a Democatic Mouthpiece)studies show that the Republican Budget Proposed Cuts will shrink the GDP by 2% (now 2.8%). They must be stopped from further destroying the economy Again.
    The Republicans are willing to say and do anything for their Corporate Masters, from destroying the middle class to selling their souls.

  9. Here's a counterproposal.

    The GOP has demanded $61 billion in cuts. The Democrats have said they will agree to $41 billion in cuts. That leaves $20 billion.

    Why doesn't the GOP agree to take that $20 billion out of wasteful defense spending? Are they really telling us that they can't find $20 billion out of the FY2011 defense budget request of 895 billion?

    Back a few months ago, the right-wingers were screeching about compromise and bipartisanship while supporting Sharron Angle, so I guess I shouldn't have too much faith in bipartisanship...

  10. Senator Reid is getting in over his head, locking horns with Speaker Boehner. And, Boehner has the backing of the majority of American citizens. He is trying to do what we elected the "NEW GOP" to do, namely REDUCE FEDERAL SPENDING tremendously! Harry Reid is now playing the part of obstructionist, using scare tactics, and the Democrats are proving that they are the REAL "PARTY OF NO".

  11. And, Boehner has the backing of the majority of American citizens.

    *****

    For now he may have that backing and I do not believe it is a majority at all, but wait.....when those Americans realize they are going to get a kick in the A&& from the same people they voted for, the attitudes will change.

  12. To Jerry Fink: Good post, Sir. Glad to hear some sanity in with all the liberal lunacy, truth-twisting and denial. How easily libs forget that Democrats have had control of Congress for the past 4 years, including the last 2 years of Bush. They have forgotten that it was the GOP takeover in 1994 which stopped Clinton from doing what Obama has been doing. How conveniently they have forgotten the warnings of their patron-saint, FDR to not let unionism take over public service employees. How slyly they ignore the agreement with FDR by the head of the AFL/CIO back then. How quick they are to condemn the $7trillion debt accumulation during Bush's 8 years but ignore Obama's increase of $5trillion in JUST TWO YEARS! How quickly the libs falsely blamed conservatives for the Tucson massacre and exposed to the whole world what fools and psychological reversal experts they are. Liberals have no credibility anymore. Now all they can do is blather-on with their tired old rhetoric which no thinking person buys anymore.

  13. To Det_Munch: Convenient thing about speculation>>>>it doesn't require sound thinking or reasoning, just guesswork and bias. And, last time I looked, elections are won by the MAJORITY. For instance, to make it understandable, it was the MAJORITY of voters who gave control of the Wisconsin Legislature and Governorship to the GOP. So the Democrats ran away to Illinois. The donkeys have no credibility anywhere in the nation anymore.

  14. If these sleazebag Republican politicians shut down the government again cut off their salaries immediately (along with the furloughed federal workers), cut off their cadillac healthcare, cut off their pension benefits and make them legally liable for the additional costs that arise because of the shutdown. Never happen but it should. If they are so concerned about cutting the federal budget take it out of defense, we spend 6 plus times as much as China, which is second in the world in defense spending behind the United States. Twenty billion in cuts if not the whole 61 billion they are asking for could be easily found there.