Democrats and Republicans can’t even agree on the size of a stopgap measure to fund the government for one month — let alone until the end of the fiscal year on Sept 30. But they have just a handful of working days to bridge that impasse because, if they don’t, the government will shut down on March 4.
While top Republican and Democratic staffers from both chambers negotiate longer-term federal spending legislation, House and Senate Democrats say that the government should continue to operate at current spending levels until April. Those levels, they point out, are already reduced to a level set by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last year. And further across-the-board cuts would be too disruptive.
“Since this bill is intended to fund vital services like Social Security, our military and border security, it should have no legislation or riders tied to it,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a statement. “This bill will include the $41 billion in budget cuts that Democrats and Republicans agreed to in December, and will keep the government running for 30 days while both sides can negotiate a common-sense, long-term solution.
No way, say Republicans.
“The American people spoke loud and clear: stop the Washington spending spree and bring down the debt. Yet Washington Democrats can’t find a single dime of federal spending to cut, insisting on the status quo, even for a short-term spending bill. But keeping bloated spending levels in place and, predictably, proposing even more tax increases, is simply unacceptable,” McConnell said in a statement Tuesday. “Washington has to stop the spending increases and start shrinking the ruinous federal debt. That’s the key to getting the economy back on track and creating the conditions that will lead to private-sector job growth.”
To translate, there are a bunch of paths to a government shutdown, and they’re all fairly plausible.
First, 41-or-more Senate Republicans could link arms and block the one-month measure unless it contains further cuts. Even if Reid can break the filibuster, the House could reject it in favor of lower spending levels, which Senate Dems would then have to swallow or reject.
To complicate things further, Senate Dems have planned to begin debate on… a patent reform bill next week. The message they’re sending is clear: we’re not interested in a protracted fight over this stopgap, and if you pick one, the resulting shutdown will be your fault.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.