“The dispute has been how to undo the sequester,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told “Face the Nation” Sunday about the collapse of talks to raise the debt limit and end the government shutdown.
But just hours later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) contradicted Schumer from the floor of the Senate. “There was one conversation on one of the Sunday shows today that said we were trying to break the caps set in the budget act,” Reid said. “Any talk about breaking the caps is not anything that came from us.”
Here is what Democrats really want:
1) A clean debt limit hike, the longer the better. On Saturday, Senate Democrats tried to pass a clean debt limit hike through December 31, 2014. That vote failed 53 to 45. Democrats will vote for any debt limit increase as long as it has no other policy attached. Ideally, Democrats would like abolish the debt limit entirely.
2) A short-term government funding deal, at sequester spending levels, the shorter the better. In addition to a clean debt limit hike, Democrats are also willing to reopen the government, at sequester levels of spending, but only for a short time. This is why Sen. Susan Collins’s (R-ME) deal fell apart on Saturday. It funded the government at sequester levels for six months. Democrats want to raise spending before that.
3) A long-term government funding deal that repeals the Budget Control Act by raising spending. Democrats strongly believe they are winning the government shutdown debate and very much want to have the same fight again once the government is reopened. Except, instead of fighting over whether or not to defund Obamacare, Democrats want to fight over ending the sequester.
That is the Democrats plan going into this week: 1) get a debt limit hike for as long as possible; 2) get a continuing resolution at sequester levels for as short as possible; 3) turn the governemnt shutdown fight from a debate about Obamacare into a debate about repealing the sequester.
Surprise: Reid Flatly Rejects Moderate GOP Offer, Dems Plot to “Break” Republicans
The Post story details the roots and depth of Democrats’ intransigence throughout the concurrent shutdown and debt limit crises. Party leaders have strictly enforced their “no negotiations” position, even when various factions were tempted to heed the will of the American people and negotiate a resolution:
Democrats’ message discipline needed some work. On Sept. 25, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was alarmed when Chuck Todd of NBC News tweeted, “Number 2 Senate Dem Dick Durbin hints they might send bill back to House that includes some sweeteners for GOP to try and dial bk showdown.” Durbin had raised the prospect that the Senate might ultimately agree to a repeal of the health-care law’s unpopular medical-device tax, a move that 79 senators were on record as supporting. A White House official was dispatched to tell him it was too early for that kind of bargaining. Similarly, when the White House broached the possibility of inviting over the four top congressional leaders for a meeting with Obama in the week before the shutdown, Reid objected, arguing that it was premature for the president to engage.
On Friday, it seemed that a proposal being spearheaded by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) could potentially be the key that would relieve the fiscal crisis stymieing the Capitol. By Saturday, the plan fell flat on its face. Senate Democratic leaders rejected the approach that had been drafted by the moderate from Maine — although Collins’s plan had attracted interest from several Democratic senators eager to strike a bipartisan deal. That left Collins — who had been trying to play deal maker in recent days to save Congress from itself — perplexed by the swift Democratic rebuff. “I have bent over backwards to try to listen and accommodate and modify my plan,” Collins said…The frustration clearly boiled over on the Senate floor on the 12th day of the shutdown as Collins and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) engaged in a heated back-and-forth over the Democratic leaders’ rejection of Collins’s plan, according to several sources who witnessed the exchange. Murray, the No. 4 in Senate leadership, pointedly told Collins that it was unacceptable to lock in cuts at the sequestration spending levels. Collins scoffed at the Democratic position, arguing she had worked to find a solution that both sides could accept.
Reid’s putative reason for nixing the Collins deal (which I view as deeply imperfect, but acceptable as a bare-minimum proposition, especially because some GOP demands have been totally unrealistic) was that it maintains current spending under the sequester as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. The sequester was Obama’s idea, and he signed the BCA into law. And yet:
Collins had been talking with a slew of Democratic and Republican senators on her proposal, which would extend government funding for six months and boost the debt ceiling through the end of January. But it also called for a two-year delay of a medical device tax in the health care law as well as an income verification requirement in order to qualify for Obamacare subsidies. Democrats were also not pleased with the amount of government funding in the Collins plan although it would give more flexibility to alleviate effects of the automatic budget cuts that have hit federal agencies. Indeed, top Senate Democrats made their distaste for the Collins plan clear early Saturday. Leaders privately began to encourage Democratic senators who were working with Collins to back away, arguing that it was a bad deal for their party in the high-stakes impasse with the GOP, several sources said. Their plea appeared to work — but it only infuriated Collins.
Go ahead and re-read what Collins’ proposal would have entailed. It’s a completely sensible and fair-minded package –bordering on a GOP give-away — yet Reid instructed his members to stop cooperating with its author and pulled the plug. Democrats’ position is so stubborn and unreasonable that they’ve managed to piss off a woman who may very well be the most moderate Republican in all of Congress. It appears as though the president and his closest Hill allies are willing — if not eager — to allow the partial federal shutdown to continue indefinitely in order to solidify their partisan advantage. Refuse to negotiate, blame Republicans, win. Will this cynical recklessness lead to a partial technical default? I suppose we’ll find out sooner rather than later; October 17 is this Thursday. Democrats are hell-bent on “breaking” the Republican Party. Maybe they view deeply harming the nation’s economy then pinning it on their opponents as the most efficient way to achieve that end. Because that’s the way responsible adults behave. I’ll leave you with two reminders: Though Republicans are clearly bearing the brunt of public anger right now, most Americans strongly agree with the GOP’s position that genuine negotiations and compromise are necessary here, and believe that another no-strings-attached debt limit increase is unacceptable.
UPDATE – The Wall Street Journal confirms that Democrats have “escalated” the crisis by re-upping their demand to violate the BCA and increase federal spending.