With the clock ticking, Washington Democrats are trying to coax GOP House Speaker John Boehner and his team to back off their “our way or the highway” approach to government spending, and negotiate a solution to the federal budget stalemate.
Signing a short-term budget resolution that prevents a shutdown of the federal government, President Obama on Wednesday called for congressional leaders of both parties to sit down with Vice President Biden to hash out a spending plan for the remainder of the fiscal year, which runs through September.
Top congressional Democrats also want to bargain with Boehner and House Republicans, who have insisted on cutting deeply into an array of federal programs.
The legislation Obama signed into law only keeps the federal lights on through March 18, so both sides would need to begin to resolve the impasse quickly, given that Democrats say the reductions that House Republicans have passed would damage the fragile economic recovery.
Democrats cite a recent study by Goldman Sachs, which finds the Republicans’ budget proposal to enact deep cuts in a swath of domestic programs would drag the U.S. economy back into a recession, cutting U.S. economic growth by as much as two percentage points in the second and third quarters.
“Rehashing the battle over funding the government every two weeks is bad policy because it creates uncertainty for businesses, and our economy can’t afford it,” says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “The time has arrived for Republicans to come to the table to begin negotiations with Senate Democrats and the White House immediately on a long-term package. Republicans insisted on a two-week timeline. Now they have a responsibility to set aside threats of government shutdown if they don’t get everything they’re demanding. They need to be prepared to negotiate immediately and reach an agreement quickly.”
Boehner responded with a political taunt, saying that the two-week reprieve gives Senate Democrats “two more weeks to either consider [the House Republican bill which contains cuts Democrats object to] – or outline their plan.”
Reid, however, says he has already put forward a suggested package of $41 billion in cuts — roughly half the levels proposed by Republicans — as a starting point for negotiations.
“We just bought another two weeks’ worth of time with this stopgap measure, but the clock is already ticking until March 18,” says Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a senior member of Reid’s leadership team. “If Republicans are serious about negotiating a responsible compromise on a long-term measure, House Republicans should immediately accept the invitation from the White House. Two-week stopgap solutions only delay the adult conversation we need to have. This is a stalling tactic by the House Republicans because they are unwilling to enter serious negotiations. It has grave consequences to continue doing business in this way. In the last week, nonpartisan economists have told us that the uncertainty about whether the government will remain open or shutdown has a fiscal drag on the economy.”
Scott Nance is the publisher of the news site The Washington Current, formerly known as On The Hill. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.