WITH ONE WEEK TO GO BEFORE THE SHUTDOWN DEADLINE…. Policymakers in Washington have exactly one week to steer clear of the government-shutdown iceberg, and as of yesterday, some of the relevant players weren’t even trying to work on this.
Not only are the halls of Congress empty, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) spent the day playing golf in Florida. (In 1995, as a government shutdown loomed, Boehner blasted then-President Bill Clinton for playing a round while Congress continued its work. “Now is the time, not to play golf as the president did yesterday, now is the time to act,” Boehner said at the time.)
In the upper chamber, though, Senate Democrats were tackling a new proposal to keep the lights on. For much of the week, the discussion has centered on how to shape a temporary extension that would give lawmakers time for additional negotiations. That’s proved far more difficult than it should — for Democrats, the line is, “Let’s give ourselves more time to discuss budget cuts.” For Republicans, the line is, “Give us budget cuts first, and then we’ll discuss budget cuts.”
So, yesterday, the Senate majority began work on a new tack.
With a political standoff over spending threatening to trigger a federal shutdown next week, Senate Democrats began drafting a plan Thursday to slice billions of dollars from domestic agency budgets over the next seven months, yielding to Republican demands to reduce the size of government this year.
The plan will involve accelerating some of the $33 billion in program terminations and reductions included in President Obama’s proposed budget for next year, a senior Senate Democratic aide said Thursday. Democrats are also looking at cuts that have been adopted by the Republican-controlled House, such as a plan to strip $8.5 billion for pet projects known as earmarks out of a measure aimed at keeping the government running through Sept. 30.
“This would be a compromise,” the aide said, “accepting something that they’ve already asked for.”
This approach appears intended to simply wrap up the work for the rest of the fiscal year, bypassing the need for a temporary extension. To accommodate Republican demands, Senate Democrats would include extensive budget cuts, effectively taking cuts the White House proposed for next year’s budget, and incorporating them into the remainder of this year’s.
It’s unclear exactly how deep these cuts would be — they won’t be $61 billion — and House Republicans have not said whether they’d consider such a plan.
The strategy is not without risk. Democrats continue to move closer to the Republican position, in the hopes of appearing reasonable and open to compromise. This, in turn, would make the GOP even more responsible for a shutdown, should it occur next week. At the same time, if House Republican leaders see Dems already making concessions — something the GOP has refused to do — it wouldn’t be surprising if Boehner & Co. continued to hold out and see how much further Democrats would be willing to go.
Once again, the inflexible deadline hasn’t changed, and time is running short. Yesterday, I said there’s an 85% chance of a shutdown. As of this morning, I’d put it at 87%.