Asked at a Capitol press conference this afternoon if he’s starting to doubt whether House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) wants to avoid a government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) didn’t mince words.
“Yes, I am,” he said.
You can look at that sentiment a couple of ways. Ironically, Reid’s statement gives Boehner credibility with his base, which makes it easier for him to strike a deal. But it’s also about passing the buck to the other party, as the clock ticks toward a government shutdown.
“They’ve made the decision to shut down the government because they want to make it harder, for example for a woman to get a cancer screening,” Reid told reporters. “We’re talking about issues relating to health of women. That’s one issue that’s held things up. The other issue is their wanting to change the air we breathe.”
You can read an explanation of the contentious issues — the riders most likely holding up a deal — here.
Standing at Reid’s side, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made it clear what Democrats will tell the country if the government shuts down. “It would be a tragic mistake to force a government shutdown, but doubly tragic if the shutdown were on issues not related to spending,” he said.
Democratic leaders say they’d be willing to pass a very brief emergency measure to extend federal funding for a few days to wrap up a deal if one’s in sight. But House Republicans are pushing a more severe measure, which would both slash discretionary spending by $12 billion over the course of a week, and pass a full year’s worth of defense funds. Senate Democrats reject that proposal. The White House has threatened to veto it.
Without a failsafe, the question of a government shutdown rests on whether Reid, Boehner, and President Obama can reach an agreement on a six month spending bill in the next 36 hours. The best hope for that is if Boehner’s walking right up to the line, to prove to his base that he fought up until the last second for every penny and every possible policy rider he could get before the shutdown.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters he hopes that’s what’s happening.
“I hope so,” Durbin said. “I don’t want to presume his motive or his strategy.”
“They’re working on a list of acceptible riders, and there are some,” Durbin said. He said the environment and abortion have become the stumbling blocks.
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 email@example.com.