Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for the first time expressed a willingness to consider some GOP policy amendments that House Republicans are insisting lawmakers tack onto the spending bill to fund the government past April 8.
The concession is one hopeful sign in an otherwise stubborn standoff that both parties can strike a deal that avoids a government shutdown next week. But as with anything, the devil is in the details and which policy amendments the Democrats are considering.
“We’re happy to look at the policy riders — there aren’t very many that excite me,” Reid told reporters Tuesday. “In fact, we’ve already started looking at [them].”
Social conservatives in the House are pushing for the deal on the six-month continuing resolution to include riders pushing for such pet causes as defunding Obama’s healthcare reform, the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas regulations and Planned Parenthood.
Riders on social issues are unlikely to make it into the final package but others have a better chance, such as those aimed at cutting off funding for climate change initiatives, certain stimulus projects or regulation restricting student aide for in-profit university classes.
Reid also tried to shame Republicans back to the negotiating table after talks broke down when Republicans refused to continue discussions last week. He said the two sides were in the same ballpark — that Democrats have a proposal within $6 billion of the GOP’s — but Republicans still balked and walked away.
“So why are they so afraid?” Reid asked repeatedly. “Are they afraid to tell the extreme Tea Party members of their caucus that they’re trying to find common ground with Democrats? Does that somehow embarrass them?”
“Republicans need to decide which is worse: angering their Tea-Party base or shutting down the government and threatening our fragile economy even more,” he continued.
Republicans have stuck to a hardline of $61 billion in cuts, which came after Tea Party freshmen and others demanded more severe cuts that the $35 billion House leaders had originally proposed.
Using Obama’s 2011 budget as a baseline, Reid said Democrats are offering $70 billion in cuts compared to the $76 billion Republicans originally demanded.
Reid seemed at ease about time constraints, saying there was plenty of time to strike a deal before the funding runs out on April 8.
Just before Reid’s comments, an angry Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the minority leader, told reporters that Democrats were jeopardizing the discussions with political antics. He cited reports that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had told Democrats to call Republicans “extreme” during a Tuesday press call and another, that former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said he would be rooting for a government shutdown if he still headed the party.