WASHINGTON – With just 11 days left to break the stalemate and strike a budget deal with President Barack Obama, Congress on Monday faced the growing prospect of a government shutdown as negotiations had borne little fruit. Neither party has the patience to continue funding the government in few-week increments, as they have been doing.
Here’s what’s going on: House Republicans want the budget to reflect the $61 billion in spending cuts they approved last month. That’s a non-starter for Senate Democrats, who want the cuts to total roughly $20 billion and have been trying to persuade Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to bring his figure down. But, by doing that, Boehner would risk alienating his 87 tea party freshmen, who won’t hesitate to scuttle the deal if he doesn’t cut as much as they want.
Unlike the White House and the Democratic and Republican leaderships, the freshmen don’t fear a government shutdown — they would hail it as a mark of courage against a White House unconcerned with the debt. This makes them all the more difficult to negotiate with, and it’s why they have a strong upper-hand in any final agreement.
By Friday evening, both sides were publicly bashing each other, apparently bracing for a stalemate. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) on dismissed as “completely far-fetched” a statement by third-ranked Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) claiming that there had been progress in the negotiations. Schumer responded by accusing the GOP leadership of refusing to “stand up to the Tea Party.”
The Associated Press reported Monday that a shutdown “is possible – if not probable.”
According to Ezra Klein, Democrats have offered to up their figure to $30 billion in spending cuts — almost the $32 billion that House budget chairman Paul Ryan put forth last month as the GOP’s opening bid (until the tea party lawmakers successfully demanded that it be significantly higher). Klein predicted Monday that Democrats might ultimately concede to cuts higher than $30 billion by the April 8 deadline.
Another factor that could scuttle the deal is the “riders” concept — provisions that would place restrictions on federal agencies such as the EPA. The Washington Post reports that House Republicans won’t agree to a deal without riders, which aren’t likely to pass the Senate.
The White House and leaders of both parties are eager for a deal as they each fear their necks would be on the line if the government were to shut down. But Boehner in particular has been backed into a corner by his tea party freshmen, and it remains to be seen whether he can bring them in line to support any kind of a budget deal that Democrats would be able to get behind.