No go: Boehner says Obama still won’t negotiate on government funding
Reid says, ‘We’re locked in tight on Obamacare’
By Stephen Dinan-The Washington TimesUpdated: 7:51 p.m. on Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Congressional leaders emerged Wednesday night from a meeting with President Obama at the White House reporting little progress as all sides struggle for a solution to the government shutdown, which began Tuesday and showed no signs of breaking.
Back at the Capitol, the House continued to try to chip away at the problem by passing bills to fund high-profile programs such as national parks and the National Institutes of Health. But Mr. Obama has vowed to veto those bills, saying he won’t fund the government piece-by-piece.
Instead, Democrats held firm on their insistence that Republicans pass the Senate’s version of a spending bill which would fund the entire government at last year’s levels, and would preserve Mr. Obama’s health care law.
“They will not negotiate,” House Speaker John A. Boehner told reporters after the meeting.
While both sides said they didn’t want a shutdown, congressional aides were predicting the fight could last for weeks — and Mr. Obama canceled part of trip to Asia, scheduled to begin this weekend, in order to keep working the issue.
Some lawmakers said the spending fight is likely to get wrapped up in a battle over the government’s debt ceiling, which the Treasury says it will hit in two weeks.
Republican unity is beginning to fray, with a significant number of House GOP lawmakers saying they would vote for the Senate spending bill if given a chance. But at least for now, they are also voting for the bills Republican leaders are putting on the floor to fund popular parts of the government.
The bill to fund the national parks passed on a 252-173 vote, while the measure to fund NIH cleared on a 254-171 vote. In both cases, about two dozen Democrats joined with the GOP.
The White House, though, said the bills were non-starters, calling it “not a serious or responsible way to run the United States government.”
In addition to the NIH and parks bills, the House held a re-vote on a measure to let the District of Columbia spend its own tax money on operations, which would ensure it could stay open throughout a shutdown. As a federal district, it normally would be tied to the rest of federal funding.
On Tuesday House Democrats had blocked the D.C. bill, but Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city’s non-voting member of Congress, said she worked to convince her fellow Democrats to free Washington from the spending fight. It passed Wednesday on a voice vote.
“It’s our money, not yours,” said Ms. Norton, who vowed to work on Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats to follow the House’s lead.
The House’s piecemeal approach has taken some of the focus off of Obamacare, but as he emerged from the meeting at the White House Mr. Boehner said that remains a key sticking point.
“All we’re asking for here is a discussion and fairness for the American people under Obamacare,” he said.
Democrats countered that Republicans are trying to win on two major points — denting Obamacare and funding the government at a $986 billion level in fiscal year 2014. Democrats said they’d prefer spending levels tens of billions of dollars higher than that, and say that by accepting the lower number they’ve already compromised.
Mr. Obama’s decision to call congressional leaders over to the White House marks a major shift. Until this point he had been content to let congressional leaders fight it out.
In directing the top Democrat and Republican in each chamber to come to the White House he has now invested himself deeply.
Mrs. Pelosi called the meeting “worthwhile” and Mr. Boehner said it was “polite.” Still, it was clear Mr. Obama is no more ready to negotiate than the four congressional leaders.
Democrats insist that if the House were to hold a vote on the Senate version, it would pass. Indeed, Democrats have identified at least 17 Republicans who have said they would vote for the “clean” Senate legislation if given the change — and that is the magic number that, combined with all Democrats, would ensure the bill’s passage.
Republicans had to use parliamentary tactics to keep Democrats from being able to offer the Senate version on the House floor Wednesday.
“Why is the majority afraid of democracy? Why are they afraid of allowing this House to work its will?” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Maryland Democrat who tried to force a vote on the Senate measure.
Republicans countered that while there isn’t agreement on every part of the overall spending bill, Congress could pass those programs where there is unity — such as veterans’ funding, paychecks for the National Guard and reopening the national parks.
Park closures in the Washington area have become a thorny problem for the White House after elderly veterans had to push through barricades to get into the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall on Tuesday.
House Republicans on Wednesday opened an official investigation into the park service’s handling of the shutdown.
In a letter to park service Director Jonathan Jarvis, Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, questioned why they suddenly posted guards and barricades at an open-air site that under normal circumstances isn’t guarded for at least 10 hours out of the day.
The park service reversed itself on Wednesday and said it will permit some veterans groups to visit the memorial.
Mr. Hastings said he wanted to know whether the White House pressured the prk service to close high-profile sites — particularly since the Lincoln Memorial wasn’t closed during the last government shutdown in 1996.