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As House and Senate Leaders Dig In, Washington Careens Toward Government Shutdown

Sep. 19, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
Sen. Ted Cruz, left, and Speaker of the House John Boehner, right. Cruz has been one of the most prominent senators advocating to defund Obamacare. Boehner on Thursday called the health care law 'a train wreck.'
Sen. Ted Cruz, left, and Speaker of the House John Boehner, right. Cruz has been one of the most prominent senators advocating to defund Obamacare. Boehner on Thursday called the health care law 'a train wreck.' (Getty Images)
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Showdown Over a Shutdown

If the White House and lawmakers on Capitol Hill fail to agree on a temporary spending deal by Monday, the US government will shut down for the first time since 1996. Click here for complete coverage.
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WASHINGTON — House Republican and Senate Democratic leaders traded barbs Thursday about a government-wide spending bill as the threat of a government shutdown seemed to grow considerably.

House Speaker John Boehner, honoring the wishes of many in his caucus, has scheduled a rare Friday vote on legislation that would keep the Pentagon and other federal agencies funded through Dec. 15. But, raising the ire of congressional Democrats, it also would strip away any funding for President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Boehner said the health care law “is a train wreck,” adding “it must go.”

By attaching Obamacare-killing language to the CR, House Republicans are attempting to force Senate Democrats to choose between keeping alive a Democratic president’s signature domestic policy achievement and averting a government shutdown at a time when the party controls one chamber and the White House.

The House could approve its CR on Friday, sending it to the Senate, which is expected to strip the Obamacare language and send what Senate Democratic leaders call “a clean CR” back to the lower chamber.

What happens next remains unclear, with Boehner saying Thursday he “won’t speculate on what the Senate’s going to do.”

For the Pentagon and defense sector, a shutdown would close government offices where DoD and industry employees work on everything from ground vehicles to aircraft to ships.

A shutdown was narrowly averted in April 2011. At that time, the Pentagon said a shutdown would be “extremely disruptive.”

With no funding, defense firms would not get paid. Neither would workers, sending a chill over the still-sputtering US economy.

Christian Marrone, vice president for National Security and Acquisition Policy at the Aerospace Industries Association, noted a six-day furlough Pentagon employees were forced to take hurt defense companies. A shutdown would have similar effects, he said.

"The recent furloughs — even though it was just six days — had a dramatic impact in a variety of areas on our member companies trying to transact business with the department on a daily basis," Marrone said. "DoD’s civilian employees were limited to 32 hours per week when normally most of the people in the Pentagon work well over 40 hours, so we saw a substantial drop in productivity, whether it was in the program offices in the testing area or working acquisition policy issues.

"When you translate that to a shutdown, it grinds everything to a complete halt. There isn’t even anyone to pick up the phones at that point," he said. "Our companies are always dialoguing with the [Defense] Department on various issues; if the government’s not in business, it just adds further delays to what we’ve already seen under furloughs."

Senate Democratic leaders stood their ground Thursday, warning House GOP leaders that an Obamacare-killing CR is dead on arrival in the upper chamber.

“Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead — dead,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. “It’s a waste of time.”

“They’re simply postponing the inevitable choice they must make: Pass a clean bill to fund the government or shut it down,” Reid said. “House Republicans’ pointless political games are wasting time.”

Reid said a government shutdown would hurt the American economy and only allow the House Republicans to “make an ideological point.”

One of Reid’s top lieutenants, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democratic leaders want to send a “strong message” to House Republicans: “We will not blink.”

Schumer said he believes Boehner will “end up doing the right thing sooner or later.”

Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., warned about “the crisis the tea party is pushing us toward.”

She urged Boehner to “ditch the tea party” and “get to work with Democrats and the many Republicans who are just as frustrated as we are today.”

To be sure, some moderate Senate Republicans oppose including the Obamacare-killing language in a temporary government-funding measure.

“I didn’t go to Harvard or Princeton, but I can count — the defunding box canyon is a tactic that will fail and weaken our position,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., tweeted Thursday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters on Capitol Hill that he doesn’t see the point in trying to defund the health care law with a CR.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said “it’s a suicide note [for Republicans] if you’re going to shutdown the government.”

“We will lose by that,” McCain told reporters. “It takes 67 votes to repeal Obamacare and I don’t think we’re getting to 67 any time soon. I think it’s very foolish move.”

That is the number of votes needed in the Senate to overturn a presidential veto.

The coming fight in the Senate will again pit old-school GOP senators against new-age fiscal conservative tea party senators like Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

“Why is President Obama threatening to shut down govt to shove Obamacare down Americans' throats?” Cruz tweeted Thursday, trying to pin blame for a potential shutdown on the president.

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