Dems line up against sequester CR

House Democrats are lining up against any short-term spending bill that continues sequestration.

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Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday that he can't support a continuing resolution (CR) at the current $988 billion level – which includes the across-the-board cuts – because it "continues the lunacy" of policies "that are killing jobs" and undercutting services.

"I know of very few people who would want to see us undermine our ability to have safe food to eat, help America's families get their kids ready for school, help make sure our veterans get the programs they deserve and help our seniors from seeing these cuts to the Meals on Wheels program," Becerra said following a closed-door meeting of the Caucus in the Capitol.

"So 988 is just a number that I could not live with."

Becerra is the second Democratic leader to announce his intention to vote against the $988 billion spending levels, even as part of a short-term bill to prevent a government shutdown on Oct. 1.

House Republicans are bringing a bill to the floor that would fund the government at a $986 billion spending level. The difference between the two figures is due to a recalculation of the actual cost of funding government operations over the last fiscal year. 

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has made clear this month that he won't back any CR that continues the sequester cuts, which have affected his Washington-area district disproportionately.

"I've made it pretty clear, I think we're going to have a fight," he said Tuesday.

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House Republicans on Wednesday unveiled a CR bill to prevent a shutdown by extending government funding through mid-December. The bill also includes language to delay for a year the implementation of the central elements of President Obama's healthcare reform law – provisions that will help move the bill through the House but don't stand a chance in the Democratically controlled Senate.

If the Senate strips out the ObamaCare language, as expected, then the bill could come back to the House at the "clean" $988 billion level. Because many Republicans would reject the bill due to the absence of the healthcare provisions, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would need a significant number of Democrats to move the final bill through the lower chamber.

The dynamics present a tough question for on-the-fence Democrats: Support the sequester cuts they oppose, or allow the government to shut down, and risk taking some of the blame?

It's unclear how many Democrats agree with Becerra and Hoyer that the $988 billion level is unacceptable in any event.

As some signal that liberals are lining up behind the two leaders, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), said Wednesday that she won't support the $988 billion figure. She emphasized that she was speaking only for herself, and not for the CBC, but many other members of the group are expected to follow suit.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, did not make the same ultimatum, but he suggested the $988 billion level would set the stage for further cuts championed by Republicans down the road.

"The Republicans aren't stopping there," Crowley said after Wednesday's meeting. "They want to cut an additional $40 billion from food stamps. We know that this is not the end-all."

He added that, "988 or 967 or anything lower we know doesn't work. We're not locking into a number, but we know that those number don't work for our country."

Meanwhile, the Democrats are hammering the GOP's new spending bill with the ObamaCare delay as a non-starter.

"This is fantasy politics with real-world consequences," Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said Wednesday. "At a certain point, it's like, 'Sober up; get real; and move on.' And until they're willing to do that … we'll be going nowhere."

The House is scheduled to vote on the CR on Friday.

This story was updated at 12:13 p.m.