WASHINGTON—The federal government shutdown enters its third day today after a White House meeting between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders Wednesday night surprised no one by failing to reach a solution. But political strategies are starting to emerge.
The White House meeting, the first face-to-face encounter since the shutdown began, lasted for more than an hour. After it ended, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters little had changed.
“The president reiterated one more time he will not negotiate,” Boehner said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell described it as “cordial but unproductive.”
But during the day, talk on Capitol Hill among House Republicans centered on a possible grand bargain that would pair a resolution to fund the government with an increase in the debt ceiling. The federal government is expected to reach its borrowing limit by Oct. 17, giving lawmakers two financial knots to unravel.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the conservative budget guru from Wisconsin and former GOP vice presidential candidate, is helping Boehner whip up support for a deal that combines the two fiscal issues along with measures that would shrink government. The package could contain entitlement reforms, delays to Obamacare, and tax overhauls. Republicans would attempt to trade some of these items for increasing the debt limit and possibly some changes or delays to the allocation of deep spending cuts already agreed to, which were part of the sequester.
Meanwhile, Democrats continued their hardline stance that has been highlighted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s relentless use of name-calling. He’s dubbed the GOP the “banana Republicans” and called those associated with the Tea Party “anarchists.”
As House Republicans debated the parameters of a possible major deal, they also voted to reopen parts of the government they deemed critical. On Wednesday they approved measures to fund the national parks, museums, the District of Columbia, and the National Institutes of Health.
“There’s nothing piecemeal about making sure Americans have access to all of their national parks, or continuing life-saving cancer research,” Boehner said. “Instead of threatening to veto these bills as part of a scorched-earth strategy, the president should back these proposals just as he did our military pay bill. We will pass additional emergency measures in the coming days as we wait for President Obama and Senate Democrats to drop their refusal to negotiate.”
The Democratic-led Senate and the White House publically opposed funding the government through these series of small bills. Making an “all or nothing” argument, they support one bill for the entire federal government, not wanting to have to pick and choose what parts of government they prefer. Such a move, Republicans say, jeopardizes the Democrats’ core belief that all parts of the government are important.
By passing these measures Republicans are attempting to make the case that it is the Democrats who are perpetuating the government shutdown. Republicans are hoping that Democratic constituencies employed by these government agencies will see the Democrats’ “no negotiations” strategy as unreasonable and pressure lawmakers to back off so federal employees can return to work.
“Despite our repeated attempts to negotiate a solution, the Senate refuses to come to the table and talk,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. “The Democratic-controlled Senate has the choice to work with us to reopen the government and protect the hardworking Americans who are affected by this shutdown.”
Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee from Louisiana, added, “Unfortunately, 170 House Democrats are so entrenched with Harry Reid and President Obama’s political games that they don’t understand why we would fund these initiatives, like cancer research for kids.”
One prominent Democratic politician in Washington agreed.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told The Washington Post Wednesday that his party’s refusal to fund the city was “hugely disappointing,” noting it would not have harmed the Democrats’ bargaining position to pass a spending bill for the District.
“I absolutely fell like a pawn,” Gray said. “And it doesn’t even feel like a chess game. A chess game has a certain intellectual quality about it.”
The approach of passing small bills has changed the debate somewhat: Fearing they will be blamed for getting in the way of federal workers’ paychecks, House Democrats abandoned the strategy of holding popular programs hostage in order to get funding for all programs and began joining Republicans on the votes. Twenty-three Democrats voted for the national parks bill while 25 Democrats supported the bill to fund the NIH.
While Reid will block the bills to prevent Senate Democrats from having to face similar choices, the strategy did seem to throw him off guard Wednesday. A CNN reporter asked him, “If you can help one child who has cancer, why wouldn’t you do it?” The senator from Nevada replied, “Why would we want to do that?”
Continuing their big government push, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters the entire government must reopen so that “Americans can move on with their lives.”
Democrats have tried to punctuate that point by targeting highly visible areas, like closing the World War II Memorial. In their aggressiveness, Democrats have even targeted places and activities that do not depend on federal dollars.
The college football game set for this weekend at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., had been jeopardized as a casualty of the shutdown war. This despite the fact the game against the Air Force Academy would generate an estimated $4 million in revenue for Navy’s campus. The Naval Academy Athletic Association is a private organization and doesn’t operate using government dollars.
“We could run our entire athletics program and conduct events as we always do without any government funds,” Chet Gladchuk, Navy’s athletic director, told the media. “In talking to the Air Force athletic director, their football team could execute the trip without government funding.”
Gladchuk added the Defense Department was considering canceling the game because of “optics.”
”It’s a perception thing,” he said. “Apparently it doesn’t resonate with all the other government agencies that have been shut down.”
The Pentagon relented late Wednesday and allowed the game to go on as scheduled. But the fate of a Virginia park is still undecided.
The National Park Service ordered the closure this week of the Claude Moore Colonial Farm even though it receives no federal funding. The farm is located on federal land but does not rely on the government for workers or upkeep.
Anna Eberly, the farm’s managing director, told The Washington Free Beacon that citizens raised money to keep the park open after the government cut its funding in 1980. It has remained opened for 32 years and was exempted from the government shutdowns in the 1990s. But this week the park service dispatched law enforcement officers to remove staff and shuttered the farm with barricades.
“You do have to wonder about the wisdom of an organization that would use staff they don’t have the money to pay to evict visitors from a park site that operates without costing them any money,” Eberly told the Free Beacon.