Dems cheer, but worry about next round

Relieved by Wednesday's breakthrough budget deal, House Democrats are also disquieted about thoughts of the next round.

Although the lawmakers are cheering the Senate's 11th-hour agreement to prevent a default and reopen the government, they're also decrying the temporary nature of the reprieve and warning that another fiscal crisis is not long coming.

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“We have averted something that could have been catastrophic, and so I'm pleased that saner heads have prevailed,” Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) said Wednesday, following a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in the Capitol. “But this is just a matter of kicking the can down [the road]. We've got to come together and start talking about solutions and get out of this current paradigm that we're in.

“There's concern that remains because we know that we're going to face this again in a matter of months,” Larson added.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) delivered a similar message. He said the mood among Democrats was a combination of relief “that we're coming to a conclusion” and “frustration that we even had to go through this.” But the underlying concern, he said, was “the uncertainty of what comes in the future.”

“The idea that we go through this every three or four months is not attractive to anyone,” Cummings said.

Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, equated the ongoing budget debate to “a Road Runner cartoon.”

“Every episode,” he said, “is another cliff.”

Hammered out by Senate leaders from both parties this week, the new budget package will extend the Treasury's borrowing authority through the first week of February, provide government funding through the middle of January and launch negotiations on the parties' competing 2014 budget proposals, to be concluded by mid-December.

The proposal pushes the next must-pass budget deadlines beyond the end-of-year holidays, but it also all but ensures that Congress must return to those thorny issues ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, when campaign pressures will be even more pronounced.

Although Republicans took the brunt of the blame for the long-running impasse, many Democrats fear those political concerns will do little to change the GOP's hard-line negotiating strategy as the new budget deadlines approach.

Cummings, for instance, said he's hopeful “the Republicans realize that that's no way to run a government,” but he's not holding his breath.

“Heritage is not going away, the Tea Party's not going away,” he said, referring to the conservative Heritage Action group that holds great sway over House conservatives. “So I don't know that they've learned any kind of lesson.”

Indeed, some conservatives, furious that GOP leaders caved on their ObamaCare demands in the current bill, are already vowing to revisit the fight when the debt-ceiling deadline comes around again in four months.

“I don't know how anything changes between now and when we hit the next debt ceiling,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan) tweeted after Wednesday's deal was announced.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she's optimistic the negotiations over the 2014 budget bills will yield fruit, thereby easing the tension surrounding the January and February deadlines.

“I think there's clarity in the public's mind as to what is at stake,” she said. “It's a values debate on the budget, and I think that with the spotlight on it – actually an enhanced spotlight now – that will serve the priorities for the American people well.”

But she declined to weigh in on how the current debate predicts those to come.

“I'll talk to you about that after we pass our bill,” she said.