House Dems make counteroffer to GOP: We'll accept sequester cuts

House Democratic leaders said Monday they'll accept the sequester cuts as part of a short-term spending bill to prevent a government shutdown.

The lawmakers framed their concession as a counteroffer to the Republicans' latest continuing resolution (CR) strategy, which will include language designed to derail President Obama's healthcare law.

"Take that [language] off and we'll accept your number," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a press briefing in the Capitol. "That's our compromise, that's our offer. We'll take your number to keep government open. Give us a chance to vote for it."

Pelosi said she called Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday with the offer, which Boehner refused.

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Pelosi and the other House Democratic leaders were quick to note that the sequester-level spending of $986 billion was first championed by Republicans in their initial CR proposal. By contrast, Senate Democrats were pushing for a level of $1.058 trillion.

"We urge the Republicans to listen to the Republicans," said Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Take the deal."

Several Democratic leaders had previously vowed to oppose any CR that contained the sequester cuts. But on Monday they said they'll reverse course and back a "clean" CR to keep the government open if the Republicans pull their ObamaCare amendments. 

"If that's not compromising, then I don't know what is," said Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking Democrat in the House.

The leaders rejected the option of moving a much shorter CR to prevent a shutdown Tuesday and buy more time.

"We don't want to get into any short-term things where this all leads right up to the debt ceiling and they combine the whole thing," Pelosi said, referring to the Oct. 17 deadline facing Congress to raise the nation's debt limit.

"Six weeks is short term," added Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip.

Two floors below the spot where the Democrats were speaking, House Republicans were trickling out of a conference meeting where GOP leaders had outlined their plan to amend the "clean" CR returning Monday from the Senate. The House Republicans intend to attach provisions to delay ObamaCare’s individual mandate and eliminate the law's subsidies for congressional lawmakers and political appointees.

The GOP's hardline approach all but ensures the government will shut down, as both Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have said that any efforts to diminish ObamaCare are non-starters.

Asked about the Republicans' latest plan, the Democrats said there's plenty of time to debate the merits of ObamaCare, but that time isn't now.

"There's time to discuss other issues, including the healthcare issue," Hoyer said. "Today, it's time for doing what is our responsibility: effectively keeping the government of the United States ... operating for our people."

Pelosi characterized the new language as the "baying-to-the-moon amendment" — a reference to the conservatives who have howled against any CR that doesn't curtail ObamaCare. She said it ensures the government will close at midnight.

"This is their affirmative statement of shutting down government, make no mistake about it," Pelosi said.