U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner listens to House Republican colleagues speak at a press conference Sept. 26 in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)
Countdown to Shutdown:
WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner sent mixed messages Thursday about the prospects for a government shutdown as Senate Democratic leaders floated a two-year sequestration fix.
Speaking to reporters following a closed-door session with his Republican caucus, Boehner urged the Senate to approve a House-passed continuing resolution (CR) to keep the Pentagon and other federal agencies open through Dec. 15 that also would cut funding for Obamacare.
“No, I do not see that happening,” Boehner said when asked if he believes a government shutdown is likely.
Yet, when asked if House Republicans would shift their fight over the president’s signature health care law to a coming battle over raising the nation’s borrowing limit and pass the Senate’s so-called “clean CR” that will not contain the Obamacare-killing language, Boehner was defiant.
“I don’t see that happening,” the speaker said, later refusing to discuss how the shutdown drama will play out in the House until the Senate passes its version of the temporary spending bill.
That could happen by midday Saturday. Senate Democratic leaders, in a surprise move, late Wednesday placed their CR on a fast track.
For the Pentagon and US defense sector, a shutdown would close government-owned facilities. Industry officials warn that would cause productivity to suffer, and costs to rise.
What’s more, any contracts the Defense Department had planned to award would be on hold, a potential blow to some weapon manufacturers.
As House GOP leaders search for a combination of CR provisions that would allow a short-term government funding measure to pass their fiscally conservative caucus, Senate Republicans have begun lobbying for the final version of the bill to contain lower federal agency spending levels.
“I’d sure like for the final package to be a smaller number,” Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told Defense News on Wednesday. “$967 [billion], that’s what I’d like.”
Other Senate Republicans say they may support a CR that locks in Pentagon and other federal agency annual budget levels at post-sequester levels.
While it is unclear if this option is attractive to Boehner, he routinely references during public remarks, as he did on Thursday, what he and House Republicans see as “Washington’s spending problem.”
Appearing Thursday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. — who says he “never votes for CRs” — also called for new spending reductions.
“There can’t be a sweetener that gets me unless the CR is totally cutting spending and creating spending for the whole rest of the year, and directing that spending,” Coburn said. “And giving some flexibility to the managers to actually make good decisions.”
Speaking to reporters a couple hours after Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said House Republican leaders lack any plan for how to move forward with a CR.
He said House GOP leaders are stuck in a “ditch,” adding “they keep digging deeper and deeper.”
Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders blamed tea party-affiliated House members with forcing Boehner’s hand, and moving Washington closer to a government shutdown.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., added new details to the Democrats’ CR plans.
The measure Reid said should pass on Saturday will be a “clean” bill, meaning it contains no riders, she said.
Senate Democrats want to pass a mini-omnibus appropriations bill in mid-October that funds the Pentagon and other departments for the remainder of fiscal 2014. House and Senate sources say it could contain a full 2014 Pentagon spending bill.
Mikulski announced that the October bill will propose canceling “draconian” defense and domestic sequester cuts “for two years.”
She did not say how the second government-wide spending measure would do so, but on Tuesday she spoke of “strategic” spending cuts, closing tax loopholes to raise new revenues and reforming mandatory spending.
Notably, Reid said he has had “not a single one” when asked if he has had a meeting with Boehner about a way ahead on a CR that both chambers can avoid.