No end in sight to federal shutdown

Greg Nash

The government shut down Tuesday, and it doesn’t look like it is going to reopen anytime soon. [WATCH VIDEO]

The first federal shutdown in 17 years began with 800,000 federal employees furloughed and Senate Democrats rejecting a House Republican bill to set up a formal conference committee on a government funding bill.

It closed with the House rejecting a trio of GOP measures offered to reopen national parks and fund the Department of Veterans Affairs and the District of Columbia’s government.

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In remarks from the Rose Garden, President Obama accused the House GOP of shutting the government down over an “ideological crusade” on healthcare. He reiterated that he would not agree to change his signature law.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) accused Democrats of rooting for a shutdown to help their 2014 electoral hopes, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) used a row of empty chairs to highlight what he said was Democrats’ refusal to negotiate. 

“Clearly, the Senate has demonstrated that it is not willing to engage in the legislative process,” Cantor said.

The trio of piecemeal funding bills was offered by Republicans wary of being blamed for the shutdown, and they were designed to help the GOP cast Democrats as intransigent.

The House GOP has sent a flurry of measures to defeat in the Senate over the last three days, which Republicans say highlights their willingness to find a solution. The latest measures, for example, didn’t touch ObamaCare, the issue that triggered the shutdown.

“We’ve got to mitigate the damage from ObamaCare, and we’ve got to mitigate the damage from the government shutdown,” Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) said. “Let’s move forward with opening as much of the government as we can get the Senate to agree on.”

The White House quickly threatened to veto the piecemeal funding bills, however, while Reid said he would not allow the House to cherry pick which parts of the government to fund. 

“If House Republicans are legitimately concerned about the impacts of a shutdown — which extend across government, from our small businesses to women, children and seniors — they should do their job and pass a clean CR [continuing resolution] to reopen the government,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said in a statement.

Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, called the White House position contradictory because Obama signed a bill Monday to ensure that the troops got paid during the shutdown.

“The president can’t continue to complain about the impact of the government shutdown on veterans, visitors at National Parks, and D.C. while vetoing bills to help them,” Steel said in a statement. “The White House position is unsustainably hypocritical.” 

None of the bills won the two-thirds majority needed for passage under a suspension of House rules.

Democrats have remained relatively unified in the shutdown fight so far, particularly in the Senate, where some say the longer the shutdown lasts, the more leverage their party will have.

House Republicans have also stayed united enough to push through several funding measures, though there were more signs of members jumping ship Tuesday.

Roughly a half dozen House Republicans – generally from Northeast or mid-Atlantic states – have joined Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) and a handful of other GOP lawmakers in pressing for a “clean” short-term spending measure, free of any other policy measures. 

Reps. Pat Meehan (Pa.), Jon Runyan (N.J.), Scott Rigell (Va.), Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.) and Frank Wolf (Va.) said they could stand down, after the party did what it could to unravel ObamaCare.

In a tweet, Meehan said, “I came to DC to fix gov’t, not shut it down. It’s time for House to vote for a clean, short-term funding bill to bring Senate to the table.”

Similarly, Rigell wrote on Twitter, “We fought the good fight. Time for a clean CR.”

Wolf agrees with Rigell, a Wolf aide told The Hill. In a statement on the House floor Tuesday, Wolf said, “This is bad for America. It is bad for America. Enough is enough. It’s time to be leaders. It’s time to govern. Open up the government.”

Other House Republicans, however, indicated there was little support in the leadership for moving a clean funding bill.

“We want to achieve some results here,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), one of the more hard-line Republicans. “We’re willing to negotiate.”

The end result was that, one day in, few on Capitol Hill wanted to hazard a guess as to when the first government shutdown since 1996 might end. 

Some top Republicans said Tuesday the funding fight could get wrapped into the Oct. 17 deadline that Washington faces to raise the debt ceiling.

“The leadership is caught in a difficult spot,” Meehan said, noting the GOP’s tighter majority “gives a disproportionate influence to a smaller percentage of the conference.”

“You’re getting no help from there.”

— Bob Cusack, Amie Parnes and Peter Schroeder contributed.