House Dems escalate shutdown fight

House Democratic opposition to a short-term spending bill that continues sequestration is gaining steam, increasing the chances of a government shutdown.

President Obama has said he's willing to negotiate with GOP leaders over the across-the-board cuts in an effort to keep the government funded beyond Sept. 30, when the fiscal year ends.

But a growing number of Democrats say they're ready to buck their president if he agrees to keep the automatic spending cuts as part of that agreement — even if it means shuttering the government.

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"There may very well be a government shutdown," Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said Wednesday. "But I say a government shutdown is better than reverting to long-term sequester-level funding."

Moran acknowledged that his position sets him apart from Obama. "But," he added, "some of us in the House, particularly those who have been here for a few years, are making it clear what we will or will not accept.

"We know what it's going to mean to our districts … if this sequester becomes the new norm, and we're not going to stand by and let that happen."

Rep. Rosa DeLauro agreed. The Connecticut Democrat, who's the ranking member of the Appropriation Committee's labor, health and education subpanel, said the sequester threatens to slash the programs under her purview by more than 20 percent.

"I can't, in good conscience, ratify something that's going to be so devastating for so many people," she said.

Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), head of the Congressional Black Caucus, say they'll also vote against sequester-level funding if it reaches the floor. The two liberals were speaking only for themselves, and not for their groups, but many of their members are expected to follow suit.

House Democrats could play a significant role in this month's fight over government spending. While they are the minority party in the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would likely need a significant number of them to pass a continuing resolution (CR) if the Senate strips out GOP language defunding ObamaCare, which is likely.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) said Wednesday that "a majority" of House Republicans would oppose a CR without the healthcare provisions.

Such a scenario could put pressure on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to rally Democrats behind a sequester-level spending bill, if only to prevent a shutdown and protect Obama.

Although Pelosi is a fierce opponent of the sequester, she has also left the door open for accepting the cuts — "for a very short time" — to keep the government running, as Democratic leaders did in March. A number of Democrats say they agree.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), for instance, characterized the sequester as "very destructive," but he also said he'd support it if his vote would prevent a shutdown.

"That's a very important condition," Connolly said Wednesday. "I would not vote to shut down the government."

A vote on a "clean" CR at sequester levels would not only split rank-and-file Democrats, but also has the potential to split Democratic leaders.

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

"So 988 is just a number that I could not live with," he said after a closed-door Caucus meeting in the Capitol.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has also 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.

The Democrats seem to have the political advantage heading into the fight, as public opinion polls show that most voters would blame Republicans if the government were to shut down.

A large show of Democrats contributing to the shutdown could alter that perception, however — particularly if leaders were among the "no" votes.

But opponents of the sequester say the political blowback is the least of their worries.

"I'm not as concerned about who gets blamed," Moran said, "as about enabling this government to function responsibly."