Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) warned Wednesday that the odds of a government shutdown are at their highest level in years.
Although partisan budget squabbles have pushed the government to the edge of a shutdown several times in recent Congresses, Hoyer said the Republicans' resistance to compromise on a short-term spending bill this month has made the current threat more severe.
Hoyer accused GOP leaders of catering to the far-right wing of their conference without regard for either centrist Republicans or the elections of 2012, which kept Democrats in control of the Senate and gave President Obama a second term. He said Congress could easily avoid a shutdown this month – if House GOP leaders would bring a compromise bill to the floor.
"A responsible bill has the votes in the House of Representatives," Hoyer said. "The problem is the responsible members of the House are not in charge. And the leadership in the House on the Republican side keeps going to its far right to draft its bill, knowing full well that those bills cannot, and will not, pass.
"It is a destructive obsession with responding only to the radical right," Hoyer added. "The sad news is that no Republican leader has called me up and asked, 'How can we work this out?' "
House Republicans passed a continuing resolution (CR) last week that would extend funding for much of the federal government through Dec. 15. To rally conservatives behind the bill, GOP leaders were forced to include a provision to eliminate financing for Obama's 2010 healthcare reform law – a non-starter with Democrats in both chambers. The bill passed 230-189, largely along party lines.
The Senate on Wednesday voted 100-0 to advance the House bill, with a separate vote to end debate scheduled for Friday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is then planning to bring a vote on an amendment stripping out the ObamaCare defunding language, which would require only 51 supporters and is therefore expected to pass in the Democratically-controlled Senate.
It's unclear what other changes, if any, the bill will undergo as it moves through the Senate. Democratic leaders, for instance, are hoping to raise the CR's spending levels to eliminate the sequester cuts, which were retained in the House bill.
Hoyer has been perhaps the most vocal opponent of the sequester, vowing as recently as last week to oppose any CR that keeps those cuts intact. On Wednesday, however, the Maryland Democrat was more cautious in his approach, declining to speculate about a Senate-passed bill because it's still unclear what such a package would contain.
"I'm not going to engage in hypotheticals [and] 'what ifs' and, in this instance, what happens, etc. I don't perceive that to be useful," he said. "It is frankly time for us to work together, to responsibly act and keep government functioning in an effective way."
He also declined to say whether Democrats could support a CR of a much shorter duration – a couple of days, say – if the extra time were needed to prevent a shutdown.
"There are literally, as you well know, hundreds of different scenarios that one can sort-of opine on, and I don't think it's very useful to do so," he said.
The cautious approach is consistent with a recent request by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that Democrats "keep their powder dry" on the CR until the Senate passes a bill.
"Our continued unity will only strengthen our leverage in this fight and the upcoming debt ceiling debate as well," Pelosi wrote to her troops Friday.