WASHINGTON – Much of the federal government remained closed for a third day Thursday, even though it appears there are enough votes in the House to end the shutdown.
That fact – along with House Speaker John A. Boehner’s private assurances that he will not let the country slip into an unprecedented default – dominated official Washington on an unnerving day interrupted by a Capitol Hill shooting that appeared to have nothing to do with politics.
As of Thursday, 19 House Republicans said they would be willing to vote for a government funding bill without the changes to the Affordable Care Act that the Republican majority is demanding. Combined with 200 Democratic votes, that’s enough to get such a bill passed – and to get the government up and running again.
But Boehner, R-Ohio, and other House GOP leaders – along with Western New York’s Republican members of Congress, Chris Collins and Tom Reed – don’t want that sort of bill to come to the House floor.
“That day has come and gone,” said Collins, R-Clarence, who argued that any bill to fund the government now ought to be rolled into legislation to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, which must be passed by Oct. 17 to prevent an economically crippling federal default.
But President Obama, who late Thursday canceled a trip to Asia due to the shutdown, urged Boehner to call up a bare-bones funding bill now.
“The only thing that is keeping the government shut down, the only thing preventing people from going back to work and basic research starting back up, and farmers and small-business owners getting their loan – the only thing that’s preventing all that from happening, right now, today, in the next five minutes, is that Speaker John Boehner won’t even let the bill get a yes-or-no vote – because he doesn’t want to anger the extremists in his party,” Obama said.
The back-and-forth over Boehner’s refusal to bring up what’s called a “clean” continuing resolution, or CR, came as 800,000 federal workers sat home for a third day while others – including the Capitol Police who shot a woman near the Capitol after a car chase – worked without pay.
There appeared to be no movement toward a solution, as House Republican leaders continued to insist that government funding for the fiscal year that began Tuesday be tied to a delay in the “Obamacare” requirement that all Americans buy health insurance.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said, “The speaker and I have both said that the Republican position is, we believe we should fund this government, but we also believe that there should not be any special treatment for anyone, and that is why we believe the right solution to that is to provide for a delay of the individual mandate under the health care law.”
Cantor made those comments at a news conference after a reporter asked why the GOP leadership would not call up a “clean CR,” even though at least 17 Republicans favored doing so. That number later grew to 19, according to a Washington Post tally.
Three New York Republicans – Reps. Richard L. Hanna of Barneveld, Michael G. Grimm of Staten Island and Peter T. King of Seaford – are among those 19.
King has argued from the start that House Republicans have been misled by tea party figures such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, into believing it was somehow possible to defund or delay the president’s signature health care law, even though Obama and the Democratic Senate would never agree to do so.
“Most of my district is strongly opposed to ‘Obamacare,’ ” King told CNN. “No one – almost no one – is coming up to me and telling me to shut down the government.”
Nevertheless, both Collins and Reed – for different reasons – insisted that it’s important for Boehner to hold firm.
Collins said it doesn’t make sense to negotiate a separate end to the shutdown without also raising the debt ceiling at the same time. After all, he noted, if Republicans agreed to end the shutdown now, another shutdown would ensue in mid-October if the two sides could not agree on a debt ceiling increase, leaving the government unable to pay its bills.
“The debt ceiling is coming in 10 days,” Collins said. “Let’s not ignore that that’s the elephant in the room, and let’s just negotiate both.”
Collins said that such negotiations could result in a “mini grand bargain,” limiting the growth in entitlement programs and reforming the tax code.
Reed, meanwhile, said he wasn’t sure there really are that many Republicans who would vote for a “clean” spending bill.
Moreover, Reed expressed support for “the Hastert rule.” Named for its author, then-House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., this informal – and occasionally violated – rule says that no measure should be brought to the House floor without the support of a majority of Republicans, even if it could pass with a combination of Republican and Democratic votes.
“I think the speaker reflects the majority position, and the majority is better served when you try to get as many Republicans as possible together,” said Reed, R-Corning.
Of course, that point of view is exasperating to Democrats such as Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who for days has been calling on Boehner to bring a simple spending bill, with no “Obamacare” changes, to the floor of the House.
“He’s being disproportionately influenced by a small group of extremists within his caucus,” Higgins said of Boehner. “He doesn’t have the courage to do it. If he did, there would be plenty of votes for the bill, both on the Democratic and the Republican side.”