ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:
Members of Congress returning to work today only have until the end of next week to reach a funding deal and avert a government shutdown, but judging by recent developments, a shutdown now appears to be a very real possibility.
Just look at what has transpired in recent days, as the budget negotiations suddenly disintegrated into another partisan war of words. Democrats had been prepared to offer an additional $20 billion in spending cuts, one Congressional source said, but pulled back when it appeared that House Speaker John Boehner would reject the proposal due to Tea Party opposition. The talks then collapsed and both parties reverted to ripping each other in public.
“After days of positive negotiations, with significant flexibility shown by the Speaker, the House Republican leadership is back to agonizing over whether to give in to right-wing demands that they abandon any compromise on their extreme cuts,” the Senate’s number three Democrat Chuck Schumer said Friday.
Today the bitter back-and-forth among lawmakers continued.
“The biggest gap in these negotiations isn’t between Republicans and Democrats – it’s between Republicans and Republicans,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor. “Time is not on our side, so it’s time I say to my Republican colleagues, ‘Get to work. Work out your differences.’”
Across the aisle House Majority Leader Eric Cantor fired back by saying that people should point the finger of blame at Reid and Schumer if a shutdown occurs.
“In the scope of our debt crisis, if Senator Reid and Senator Schumer force the government to partially shut down over these sensible spending cuts, Americans will hold them accountable,” Cantor said.
With only 11 days left before a shutdown would occur, timing presents a very real problem for both houses of Congress. Senate Tea Partiers such as Rand Paul and Mike Lee could make Senate leadership to jump through multiple procedural hoops in order to pass a funding bill, forcing the Senate to use up a full week to pass a bill from start to finish. The House, meanwhile, has a rule that bills must be posted for three days before a vote, chewing up more valuable time. And that is all assuming that a long-term deal is ultimately reached, a massive assumption at this stage.
Lawmakers could always opt for another short-term deal that kicks the can down the road for a few more weeks. After all, lawmakers have opted for that approach half a dozen times in the last year. But that presents its own set of problems. 54 House Republicans voted against the last stop-gap bill on March 15, while many others who voted for it – on both sides of the aisle – have indicated that they would not support yet another short-term bill. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD, even went so far as to say on “Top Line” today that the one thing that both parties can agree on is that another stop-gap bill is not the solution.
Ultimately, perhaps the most stark indication of the showdown over a shutdown is that lawmakers are not even meeting today in an attempt to hash out an agreement. Factor in all those issues and, as one Congressional source put it, a government shutdown on April 9 is “not unlikely.”
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel emails, “Discussions on a funding bill for the rest of the fiscal year that cuts spending are continuing, and will continue. No agreement will be made or announced until all of the outstanding issues – including funding limitations – are settled. At this point, the House has done its work by passing a bill, and the Democrats who run Washington have not. No spin can change that fact.”