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Government shutdown: Democrats push Boehner to move forward

October 02, 2013|By Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli

WASHINGTON -- Democrats used both diplomacy and trash talk to urge House Speaker John A. Boehner to abandon his tea party flank Wednesday and pass a no-strings-attached bill to reopen the federal government, as attention turned to the broader fight looming over the nation’s debt limit.

Senate Democratic leaders mocked the speaker as a “puppet of Ted Cruz,” the Texas senator who has orchestrated the GOP’s hard-line strategy to end President Obama’s healthcare law in exchange for keeping government open.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also telephoned Boehner on Wednesday morning, promising the speaker a broad negotiation on federal budget priorities if the speaker would agree to allow a vote on a straight bill to reopen government. Congress will need to raise the debt ceiling by Oct. 17 or risk a federal default.

FULL COVERAGE: The U.S. government shutdown

“All eyes are on Speaker Boehner,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY.), the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate.

The White House has summoned the top congressional leaders for an evening meeting with the president, but Obama’s involvement could only serve to harden Boehner’s conservative majority. Republicans in the House often dig in against the president’s initiatives.

Boehner’s office dismissed Reid’s latest offer as hardly a concession. Republicans have declined previous Democratic proposals for a broad budget conference, and preferred to keep any negotiations limited to their interest in stopping Obamacare in return for ending the government shutdown.

“The entire government is shut down right now because Washington Democrats refuse to even talk about fairness for all Americans under ObamaCare,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. “Offering to negotiate only after Democrats get everything they want is not much of an offer.”

No easy resolution to the crisis appears in sight. As the shutdown drags on, it is expected to merge with a battle over the need to raise the nation’s $16.7 trillion debt limit to continue paying the nation’s bills or risk a potentially devastating federal default.

Both sides realize the debt ceiling stakes are extremely high, and are trying to calm tensions before that fight escalates to a showdown.

Reid, in his letter to Boehner, suggested the speaker’s strategy of using the routine government funding bill as leverage for killing the Affordable Care Act would have been like Democrats shutting down government to end the Iraq war during President George W. Bush’s administration.

“I hated the Iraq war. I think I hated it as much as you hate the Affordable Care Act,” Reid wrote. “I could have taken the steps that you are taking now to block government funding in order to gain leverage to end the war… But I did not do that.”

On Wednesday, the House was set to hold a second round of votes to approve small-scale bills that would reopen particular parts of the government. Those include legislation to reopen national parks and veterans services, as well as new bills to pay National Guard personnel and reservists during the shutdown and keep open the National Institutes of Health, where lawmakers have protested the potential loss of life-saving medical treatments, particularly for children.

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