Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said there are no backroom talks with Republicans to end the government shutdown. (Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — There are no active backroom talks between House and Senate leaders about ending a US government shutdown, a senior Democrat said.
As the first federal government shutdown in 17 years moves through its second day, hopes for even a short-term deal to fund the federal government are almost non-existent on Capitol Hill.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., told Defense News Wednesday morning.
“The Senate has sent them a resolution that would re-open the government, have a continuing funding resolution at fiscal 2013 rates, and gives us six weeks to work out the larger fiscal issues,” Mikulski said during a brief interview.
“If they’d pass that, we’d re-open the government and be at the negotiating table,” she said. “That, I think, would solve a lot of problems.”
Mikulski was referring to a Senate-approved continuing resolution (CR) that would fund the Pentagon and other federal agencies through Nov. 15.
Senate Democratic leaders want to fund the government through mid-November in order to allow lawmakers and the White House to spend the first half of October working on a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
From there, Democrats want to begin work on a mini-omnibus spending measure that would cover the rest of fiscal 2014. It likely would include a full 2014 Pentagon appropriations bill, lawmakers and sources say.
But House Republicans, buoyed by their tea party wing, continue to insist any government funding measure include language de-funding or delaying President Barack Obama’s health care reform law.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters around 1 p.m. that he had just chatted with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, via telephone.
Reid described a letter he sent Boehner on Tuesday, in which Senate Democratic leaders made the first of what could be many pitches to nudge the embattled GOP leader to bring the Senate’s CR to an up-or-down vote.
Reid said if Boehner allows the Senate’s CR to pass — which back-of-the-envelope math shows it would — he will appoint conferees on a 2014 budget resolution “as soon as the government opens.”
For the Pentagon and defense sector, a shutdown means government offices where DoD and industry employees work on everything from ground vehicles to aircraft to ships will remain closed. Analysts say productivity at weapons-manufacturing facilities will plummet.
Lawmakers increasingly are saying they believe the fight over ending the shutdown soon will “merge” with a coming political donnybrook over raising the borrowing limit.
“I think this is now merging into the debt ceiling fight, frankly. CR is only part of it,” House Republican Conference Deputy Whip Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Tuesday during a television interview. “Perhaps we can get short-term CR and then have a much larger deal that would give us budget stability, which is where I think we ought to go.”
Another House GOP leader, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., referred to the debt-ceiling battle as the kind of “forcing action” needed to end the shutdown.
“We have a debt limit coming. That debt limit is coming in about two weeks. Most budget agreements in the past have always involved debt limit increases,” Ryan told reporters on Tuesday.
“We think that’s the forcing mechanism, just like the Budget Control Act that President Obama signed before, or like Bowles-Simpson, or like Gramm-Rudman, or like the 1997 or 1990 budget agreement,” Ryan said. “All of those budget agreements came together because of debt limits. That’s what we think will be the forcing action to bring us — the two parties together. Our goal and motivation here is to get a budget agreement, and we think this is a way to do that.”
Obama has asked all four congressional leaders to attend a Wednesday afternoon meeting at the White House to discuss how to end the shutdown. It is unclear, however, how Obama might force the House Republican’s far-right wing to compromise.