With Democratic leaders aggressively assigning blame to the Tea Party for derailing funding talks, a group of freshman Republicans held a press conference on Wednesday to assert instead that the impasse was instead the fault of Senate Democrats.
Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), claimed yesterday that they were close to a deal with House Republicans and the White House before conservative rank-and-file Republicans revolted, but the group of about half a dozen Republicans insisted they were on the same page as House Republican leaders.
“They want to frame the debate as one within the Republican caucus, but the American people are not buying it,” Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) said. “The fight is between Republicans who want to cut Washington spending and Democrats who want to defend it.”
The group blamed Reid for the looming shutdown, taping a letter from 30 freshmen Members onto the door of the Senate in a manila envelope addressed to “MR. REID” in Sharpie that called on Democrats to jump start negotiations by passing their own CR. The Senate rejected the House’s long-term continuing resolution earlier this month but has not passed its own long-term bill funding the government.
Reporters repeatedly pushed the freshmen Members as to whether they were willing to negotiate at all on either their demands for $61 billion in discretionary spending cuts or on various policy riders restricting funding for Planned Parenthood, public broadcasting, and other groups. While refusing to give specifics, several freshmen suggested at least some wiggle room and stressed they wanted to avoid a shutdown.
“I don’t know anyone who has said ‘our way or the highway,’” Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR) told reporters.
“We have a lot to talk about, but failure is not an option — we’re not here to try to shut down the government. We’re here to reform the way the government does business,” Rep. Rick Crawford (R-TX) said. “We can’t negotiate with ourselves, what we’re interested in is getting the Senate to take action.”
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) noted that Tea Party activists gave the GOP a boost in negotiations by planning protests for this week, but suggested that they may have to temper their demands.
“I understand their frustration and impatience, but I also see the other side of it, that you have 100 people in the Senate to deal with and 435 people in the House of Representatives to deal with and at least one person in the White House to deal with,” he said. Putting the ball in Reid’s court, he added: “Give us something to look at and we might say ‘yes.’”
But others sounded a sharper tone: “We will not settle for a split the baby strategy,” Roby said. “The American people want real cuts and it is time for the Senate Democrats to respond.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.