Federal Government Shutdown Debate Heats Up

Feb 22, 2011 5:15pm

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe & John R. Parkinson report:

The war of words over the looming government shutdown got a lot more heated Tuesday.

It started when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he will try to pass a clean bill to extend federal funding for 30 days when the Senate reconvenes next week, even though House Speaker John Boehner had flatly stated last week that his party would not agree to that.

Republicans have said they will only agree to a bill that cuts spending.

Boehner predictably rejected Reid’s proposal for a short-term solution that maintains spending levels, but conceded that if Reid does not bring House Republicans’ continuing resolution to the Senate floor for a vote, “the House will pass a short-term bill to keep the government running – one that also cuts spending.”

“Senate Democratic leaders are insisting on a status quo that has left us with a mountain of debt and a stalled economy with unemployment near 10 percent. That is not a credible position,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “Republicans’ goal is to cut spending and reduce the size of government, not to shut it down.”

Democrats have argued that their clean short-term bill would reflect $41 billion in cuts from President Obama’s 2011 budget that was never enacted by Congress. But House Republicans have been steadfast in their pledge to cut $100 billion from the president’s budget request.

Following Boehner’s response Tuesday afternoon, Senate Democrats then held a conference call to rip the GOP’s stance, blasting the Speaker of the House for “being misled and pushed around by his conservative freshmen.”

“We’re saying in the meantime we’ll pass a stop-gap measure to stop a government shutdown,” the Senate’s number-three Democrat Charles Schumer said. “Now they’re saying even that’s not good enough. They’re saying they don’t want to negotiate on deeper cuts. They want cuts right now on their terms before negotiations take place. How can you say you’re in good faith when you’re saying I want my demands before any negotiations? It’s not an act of good faith. It’s the act of a group that won’t be satisfied with anything less than a shutdown of the government.”

“Speaker Boehner is a smart reasonable man and I have a great deal of personal respect for him,” Schumer, D-NY, continued. “He remembers what happened in 1995 when Newt Gingrich pursued a similar policy and forced a shutdown. I take Speaker Boehner at his word when he says he doesn’t want to repeat that mistake, but he’s under intense pressure from the right wing both outside Washington and inside his caucus and he’s being misled and pushed around by his conservative freshmen who don’t remember what happened in 1995 and not only don’t fear a government shutdown, but actually say they welcome one.”

“No one wins from a government shutdown, but for some mind-boggling reason many on their side seem to be rooting for one,” he added.

And just in case there was any doubt that the two sides appear to be growing further apart, not closer together, Reid noted that the two sides have not negotiated “at all” on a new continuing resolution.

That better change soon if a federal shutdown is going to be avoided come March 4. That’s when the latest funding bill runs out – and with lawmakers currently on a week-long President’s Day break, they will only have five work days to next week to avert a shutdown once they return to Washington next Monday.

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