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House Speaker John Boehner speaks with reporters following his meeting with President Obama Wednesday evening.
Associated Press/Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta
House Speaker John Boehner speaks with reporters following his meeting with President Obama Wednesday evening.

Shutdown enters day three

Government | Republicans vote to open parts of government while Democrats try to close places not even funded by government.

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.

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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?”

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