By Alexander Bolton - 09/21/13 10:00 AM EDT
Senate Democrats are urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to be aggressive in the standoff over a government shutdown with House Republicans.
They say Reid should counter the House Republican government funding bill by not only stripping language defunding ObamaCare, but by increasing funding for the rest of the government.
“We’re going to try to get as high a CR level as we can get,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic caucus, referring to the stop-gap spending measure. “We are not going to be held hostage.
“We think it should be higher than the $988 [billion] level, absolutely. But we’re not going to have a negotiation that deals with extraneous issues,” he added. “We’re going to negotiate to get as a high a level as possible.”
But the first step for Democrats, Schumer said, is to remove the ObamaCare issue from the government funding resolution.
If Congress does not act by Oct. 1, large portions of the federal government will shut down due to lack of funding. Democrats believe Republicans will get most of the blame if that scenario comes to pass.
A recent CNN poll showed that 51 percent of the public would fault congressional Republicans for a shutdown, while only 33 percent would blame President Obama.
The House on Friday passed legislation funding government through mid-December. It extended government funding at the current level, which has been reported alternately as $988 billion and $986.3 billion.
Democrats want the Senate to adopt a higher number because it would serve as a precedent for boosting government funding levels for the rest of fiscal year 2014.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters earlier this month that he could not support the funding level set by the House-passed continuing resolution.
“I am not going to vote to continue the sequester,” he said. “I believe it is inimical to the interests of the United States of America — to our government, to our economy and to our national security.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said Congress must take action to reverse the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.
“Sequestration is an absolute disaster. It’s causing enormous harm right now. It will continue to cause enormous harm,” he said.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said “sequestration is stupidity on steroids.”
He says the longer the sequester stays in effect, the worse the impact will be on military readiness and medical research.
A Senate Republican aide minimized the importance of the funding level in the continuing resolution, arguing that the 2011 Budget Control Act takes precedence.
“Reid can set whatever spending number he wants. It’s irrelevant because the sequester will kick in in January,” said the aide.
The Budget Control Act sets a spending cap of $967 billion for fiscal year 2014. If Democrats boost funding levels in the stop-gap spending measure, sequestration will require a bigger automatic cut after New Year’s Day to keep below the BCA cap.
The stopgap spending measure passed by the House covers October, November and half of December. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Increasing funding levels for the start of the fiscal year could serve as a precedent for mitigating the automatic cuts looming for the rest of the fiscal year after January. Democrats could argue the cuts needed to bring the total year’s spending back down to $967 billion would be too drastic.
Senate Democratic sources say Reid could increase the funding level in the House-passed resolution by using the same floor procedure he’s expected to use to remove language defunding ObamaCare.
“He can also change the numbers,” said a Senate Democratic strategist.
Senate Republicans on Thursday said they would vote to end debate on the House legislation — thereby advancing it — even if it allows Reid to later schedule a vote on an amendment stripping language defunding ObamaCare.
“I can’t imagine why any Senate Republican would vote to block cloture or block motion to proceed on a bill they support,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters. “I’m assuming that what the House sends over is what we support.”
Corker acknowledged this would allow Reid to later overhaul the bill with a simple majority vote.
“Since you can amend a bill post-cloture, as long as it’s germane, with only a simple majority, it would seem to me that he has a way to make this work as he wishes,” Corker said.
But Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), one of the leaders of the defunding push, on Friday said Republicans should filibuster the House bill if that’s what it takes to stop Reid from using “procedural gimmicks” to fund ObamaCare.
“If Reid pursues this plan — if he insists on using a 50-vote threshold to fund ObamaCare with a partisan vote of only Democrats — then I hope that every Senate Republican will stand together and oppose cloture on the bill in order to keep the House bill intact and not let Harry Reid add ObamaCare funding back in,” Cruz said in a statement.
Reid is expected to schedule a vote on an amendment to substantially overhaul the House bill before holding a vote to end debate. Once he gets 60 votes (which would require the support of six Republicans) to move to final passage, he would only need 51 Democratic votes to revise the bill.