US Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
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.
WASHINGTON — Top Senate Democrats on Tuesday laid out an ambitious budget strategy that would avert a government shutdown while canceling the next round of sequestration cuts.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Mich., announced the chamber will replace a House-passed measure to fund the government through Dec. 15 with one that does so through Nov. 15.
The Senate will move to strip from the House-passed bill language that would kill funding for President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, Mikulski and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., confirmed Tuesday.
Mikulski described such parts of the House’s continuing resolution (CR) as “toxic riders.”
Senate Democrats want to pass a six-week CR this weekend, pressing the House to do the same by 11:59 p.m. (EST) on Monday to avoid a federal government shutdown.
They then want to begin work on what’s known in Washington as a mini-omnibus appropriations bill that would cover all of government for the remaining months of fiscal 2014.
That bill could, as lawmakers did in 2013, ride on the backs of full 2014 military and Veteran’s Affairs appropriations bills.
Most notably for the Pentagon and US defense firms, Mikulski and Senate Democratic leaders want to address the next round of sequestration in their envisioned 2014 mini-omnibus.
“First of all, we would like to cancel sequester,” Mikulski said on the Senate floor. “We would like to cancel sequester in a balanced way” that would include $110 billion of new federal spending cuts and new tax revenues.
Taxes and spending cuts are among the top issues that led to the 2011 stalemate that forced White House and House Republican leaders to agree to sequestration in the final days of talks to forge the Budget Control Act. That stalemate still exists, and has made several attempts at a so-called “grand bargain” fiscal deal fail.
Republicans oppose any new tax revenue. Democrats oppose more cuts to domestic programs.
Mikulski said Democrats and Republicans should aim for “strategic cuts.” And she called for Congress to revive an idea put forth during the 2012 presidential campaign by Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
“What about those loopholes Mitt Romney talked about? Let’s bring some of those back and examine them,” Mikulski said, banging the desk several times during her speech.
She then offered an olive branch to Republicans as she began selling the bill that would have to be passed in mid-December: “Let’s look at some items in mandatory spending.”
One moderate, deal-minded Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, endorsed trading “tax-code reform for entitlement reform.” He also wants to “replace sequestration.”
Seconds after Mikulski ended her floor remarks, tea party firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, seized the floor, saying he would speak against Obamacare and the Democrats’ CR approach “until I am unable to stand.”
That means Cruz might speak into Tuesday night or even Wednesday morning. But Reid and aides were quick to note Cruz is not filibustering the Democrats’ CR — they said he is merely using Republicans’ procedural time until it expires at noon Wednesday.
At that time, Reid said on Tuesday morning, the chamber will vote to end debate on stripping the House-passed language to defund the president’s health care law.
That will happen “regardless of what anyone says or does today,” Reid said. “I want to disabuse everyone — there will be no filibuster today.”
Asked by reporters on Tuesday if the government shutdown drama ends any other way but with House Republicans dropping their bid to use the CR to kill the health care law, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., bluntly replied: “No. No other way.
“We’ll end up not shutting the government down,” McCain said. “And we will not de-fund Obamacare. That’s how the movie ends.”