WASHINGTON – Even before a budget deadline arrives, leaders from both parties are blaming each other – and some Republicans are criticizing their own – for a government shutdown many are treating as inevitable.
The top Democrat in the House says Republicans are “legislative arsonists” who are using their opposition to a sweeping health care overhaul as an excuse to close government’s doors. A leading tea party antagonist in the Senate counters that conservatives should use any tool available to stop the Affordable Care Act from taking hold. President Bill Clinton’s labor secretary says the GOP is willing “to risk the entire system of government to get your way,” while the House speaker who oversaw the last government shutdown urged fellow Republicans to remember “this is not a dictatorship.”
The unyielding political posturing on Sunday comes one week before Congress reaches an Oct. 1 deadline to dodge any interruptions in government services. While work continues on a temporary spending bill, a potentially more devastating separate deadline looms a few weeks later when the government could run out of money to pay its bills.
“This is totally irresponsible, completely juvenile and, as I called it, legislative arson. It’s just destructive,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in an interview that aired Sunday.
The Republican-led House on Friday approved legislation designed to wipe out the 3-year-old health care law that President Barack Obama has vowed to preserve. But the House’s move was more a political win than a measure likely to be implemented.
Across the Capitol, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said he would keep the health law intact despite Republicans’ attempts, in his words, “to take an entire law hostage simply to appease the tea party anarchists.”
One of those tea party agitators, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, showed little sign on Sunday that he cared about the uphill climb to make good on his pledge to derail the health care law over Obama’s guaranteed veto.
“I believe we should stand our ground,” said Cruz, who already was trying to blame Obama and his Democratic allies if the government shuts down.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said Cruz’s efforts were destructive and self-serving as Cruz eyes a White House campaign.
“I cannot believe that they are going to throw a tantrum and throw the American people and our economic recovery under the bus,” she said.
“This is about running for president with Ted Cruz. This isn’t about meaningful statesmanship,” she added later.
The wrangling over the budget comes as lawmakers consider separate legislation that would let the United States avoid a first-ever default on its debt obligations. House Republicans are planning legislation that would attach a 1-year delay in the health care law in exchange for ability to increase the nation’s credit limit of $16.7 trillion.
Obama, speaking to political allies on Saturday evening, showed little patience for the GOP efforts to undermine his legislative accomplishment by either avenue.
“We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations,” Obama told the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation dinner. “We’re not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point.”
Congress doesn’t seem eager to help Obama, although there are deep divides – both between parties and within them – over who deserves blame.
Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., said the goal was to defund the president’s health care legislation for at least one more year if not forever.
“We do have eight days to reach a resolution on this, and I propose an idea that kept the government operating and opened for an entire year while delaying and defunding Obamacare for a year so that we could work out those differences,” Graves said.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose faceoff with Clinton led to government shutdowns that inflicted significant damage on the GOP and helped resurrect the then-president’s political fortunes in time for his 1996 re-election bid, said his GOP colleagues should not yield.
“This is not a dictatorship. Under our constitution, there should be a period of tension and there should be a compromise on both sides,” Gingrich said.
Robert Reich, who was Clinton’s labor secretary, said that works only if both parties are willing to negotiate.
“Sorry, under our constitutional system you’re not allowed to risk the entire system of government to get your way,” Reich said.
It is likely that when the House legislation arrives in the Senate, Democrats there will strip off the health care defunding mechanism. Democrats plan to send back to the House a bill that prevents disruptions in government services but not the health provision they championed.
Cruz, however, said Senate Republicans cannot allow that to happen and should mount every procedural hurdle available. Cruz, who pushed lawmakers to tie a budget bill with health care hurdles, said Republicans should mount a procedural roadblock that would require 60 votes for any changes to the House bill.
“You know what? If Senate Republicans stand together, we can stop Harry Reid from doing it,” Cruz said.
But within his own party, Cruz faced skepticism.
“It’s not a tactic that we can actually carry out and be successful,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “The answer now in the Senate, by those who propose this strategy, is to filibuster the very bill they said they wanted.”
Pelosi spoke to CNN’s “State of the Union.” Cruz and McCaskill were interviewed on “Fox News Sunday.” Reich, Gingrich and Graves appeared on ABC’s “This Week.” Coburn was on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
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