By Mike Lillis - 09/26/13 03:37 AM EDT
House Democrats are leaving themselves plenty of wiggle room to accept the sequester in a short-term spending bill for the sake of preventing a government shutdown.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) amplified her opposition to those cuts Wednesday — "I don't like them at all," she said — but she declined to say that she would vote against any short-term CR that contained them.
"Let's see what it is," she said, referring to legislation the Senate is expected to send to the House in the coming days.
That inexact position stands apart from the Democrats' approach to the Republicans' efforts to scale back ObamaCare — a move Pelosi said would be "a nonstarter."
"It's really clear that anything that diminishes the Affordable Care Act is not anything we're going to support," she said.
The remarks came as Democrats emerged from a Wednesday night meeting with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in the Capitol.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a vocal sequester opponent who just last week predicted that a majority of House Democrats would oppose any CR that contained the cuts, said Wednesday that the calculus has now changed.
Many Democrats, he said, are now leaning toward supporting a funding extension at the current sequester level through Nov. 15.
"We'll accept the 988 [level], I expect, to get through the next 45 days," he said.
Moran said the Democrats are hopeful that window would provide enough time for the administration to work with Senate Democrats to eliminate the cuts over the longer term.
He said he can support the sequester level to provide that short window "if we continue to have assurances from the White House that they're not going to accept the sequester level for the next seven years."
"If we're moving forward, fine. If it just stalls, and it looks like they're going to accept the lower sequester level and allow that to become the new normal, then we're going to be a 'no' vote," Moran said. "But at this point, it looks like we're going to kick the can another 45 days down the road."
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said the question of sequester levels is a bit premature because Democrats are currently more focused on whether GOP leaders will allow a CR without the ObamaCare defunding language to come to the floor.
The sequester, Deutch said, "is a real concern that people still have, but I think we'll get to that once there's some real confidence that we're going to be able to come up with a CR that we're going to get to vote on, a CR that even has a chance to go anywhere."
Although House Republicans passed a CR last week that includes provisions to defund the 2010 health law, Senate Democrats are expected to remove that language and send the bill back to the House, likely over the weekend.
Because many House conservatives would abandon the CR without the ObamaCare provisions, GOP leaders would almost certainly need significant Democratic support to get such a measure through the lower chamber to prevent a shutdown Tuesday.
Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has not indicated how he intends to approach the CR when it returns from the Senate, leaving Pelosi and House Democrats largely in wait-and-see mode.
"We look forward to seeing what they [Senate lawmakers] send over, and then we look forward to seeing how the House of Representatives acts upon that," she said. "They [House Republicans] meet tomorrow, and I think we'll know more tomorrow about what they're doing."
Pelosi said she remains optimistic that Congress can avert a shutdown, but in the same breath she also hammered the GOP's CR as "an intentional shutdown of government."
"If they want to continue going down a path of shutting down government, they'll consider the same thing," she warned. "Hopefully they've put their marker down, the Senate will put its marker down, and we'll see where we go."