By Bernie Becker and Mike Lillis - 10/05/13 05:36 PM EDT
House Republican leaders chastised Democrats on Saturday for choosing to give relief to federal workers hurt by the current shutdown, but not funding other key initiatives.
Speaking to reporters after an unanimous vote on back pay for furloughed workers, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters that the House had already passed more than a half dozen measures to fund targeted chunks of the government.
On another Saturday when Democrats and Republicans held dueling press events, Cantor stressed that far fewer House Democrats backed measures to ensure veterans’ benefits, fund the National Institutes of Health or nutrition programs for women and children.
“With the unanimous vote we just saw for federal employees, if it’s so important to ease the pain for them – what about the vets? Do the Democrats not feel it’s important to make sure the pain is eased on them?” Cantor said, following the House's second consecutive Saturday session.
“What about the sick children that need access to clinical trials? Is it not as important to ease the pain of the shutdown for them? Or is it just the federal employees that the Democratic minority thinks is important?”
Behind President Obama, Democrats in both chambers have largely opposed the Republicans' piece-by-piece approach, arguing that Congress should put all government employees back to work, rather than "picking winners and losers."
"Who thinks any one of our veterans … wants to be part of the Republican gimmick of shutting down government where they are spared as veterans … while America's infants and children suffer the consequences?" Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Saturday. "I don't think there's a veteran in American who would say, 'Yeah, take care of me and leave our children behind.' But that's the gimmick that's being played today."
Democrats and Republicans also face an Oct. 17 deadline to raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit, leading to a merged debate over how to ensure that the U.S. keeps its borrowing authority and reopening the government.
Still, the House vote on back pay also marks just the most recent political twist as both Democrats and Republicans seek the political high ground in the shutdown debate.
Some GOP lawmakers have sounded hesitant in recent days to support a back pay bill, and Republicans have historically targeted the federal workforce for cuts.
Democrats have also noted that Republicans are now pushing to fund areas – like in the healthcare arena – that they’ve sought to slash.
Two floors below the GOP event and just minutes later, House Democratic leaders amplified their own message: Bring the Senate-passed CR to the floor, they said, and the government will re-open today with bipartisan support.
"Our public employees want to work, they American people want government to be open, it's in everyone's interest that the Speaker accept our offer of … nearly 200 votes [on a clean CR]," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "All they need is a couple dozen Republican votes."
The Democrats noted that, while they are adamantly opposed to the $986 billion sequester-level spending cap included in both the Senate- and House-passed bills, they're willing to swallow that number for six weeks in order to end the shutdown.
On Saturday, the Democrats also pledged to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that, if the Republicans bring a clean CR to the floor, they would not complicate the process using a procedural move, known as a motion to instruct, to press Democratic policy priorities – something Boehner warned earlier in the year would allow the Democrats to toss "politically motivated bombs" on the House floor.
"We have substantively accepted what they are offering, we have procedurally tried to accommodate and allay their concerns," Pelosi said. "Let's open government. Give us a vote, Mr. Speaker."
With polls suggesting that the public’s not on their side in the current standstill, Republicans continued to try to make their case that they were the reasonable party in the current shutdown negotiations.
Cantor called once more for President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to negotiate. Meanwhile, the House GOP campaign arm also sent out releases about a dozen incumbent Democrats, asking why those lawmakers put federal workers ahead of other priorities.
Other House Republicans, like Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Rep. James Lankford (Okla.), pointed out that, while their chamber had been passing spending measures, the Senate was approving legislation enshrining a national chess week.
“This has got to stop,” McCarthy said. “Everyone hurts during a shutdown.”