As Senator Jeff Sessions told me yesterday on The Ed Morrissey Show, Harry Reid has gaveled out the Senate for the week and plans to spend the next two weeks on issues unrelated to the budget. That would run out the clock on the current continuing resolution and force a showdown between John Boehner and the Republican majority in the House and the Democrats in the Senate and the White House over the budget impasse — and likely a shutdown. Ten Senate Republicans have sent a letter to Reid threatening to object to all other business and bring the Senate to a halt:
Ten Republican senators are warning Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that they will block any bills that do not address fiscal issues until the current impasse on spending is resolved.
“While there are many issues that warrant the Senate’s consideration, we feel that the Senate must not debate and consider bills at this time that do not affirmatively cut spending,” reads a letter signed by the group of 10. “We, therefore, are notifying you of our intention to object to the consideration of any legislation that fails to directly address this crisis in a meaningful way.”
The letter was signed by Republican Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, John Ensign of Nevada, Mike Lee of Utah, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Marco Rubio of Florida, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Senate rules give individual members the power to block legislation indefinitely to force debate. The letter says that the members will blockade any unrelated bill that comes forward unless Reid dedicates “significant floor time” to the debate over debt and spending.
The most obvious impulse is to compare this with the Wisconsin fleebaggers, and it’s a good comparison …. for Republicans. The GOP has not threatened to stomp off in a huff because Reid won’t address the budget. Instead, they are pledging to work within the system to demand action from Reid on a budget that has now waited more more than five months past its due date, as Democrats failed to produce a budget when they held large majorities, mainly because they didn’t bother to try.
Democrats seem to have decided that a shutdown will work to their benefit, as TPMDC reports today, and that attitude goes all the way to the top:
A senior Treasury department official told reporters Thursday that a brief government shutdown may be unavoidable as the only feasible way to de-escalate the confrontation over government spending dividing Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. The official said the administration still hopes to avoid such a flashpoint because of the impact it would have on the economy, but added that President Obama will not sign short-term stop-gap government funding measures in perpetuity.
The comments were made in a briefing with reporters conducted on deep background, meaning no direct quotes could be attributed to the official.
The official’s remarks represent the most serious indication yet that the administration is willing to endure a short term shutdown despite the unknown political costs, to focus congressional leadership on brokering a long-term deal. But they also come at a time of ongoing negotiations between the White House and congressional Republicans, and are a signal that the administration isn’t resigned to getting rolled by the GOP. Whether that’s tough talk designed to move negotiations, a bluff, or an indication that the White House is prepared to go the brink on this remains to be seen.
Good luck with that brinksmanship. This isn’t 1995, and Obama’s not Bill Clinton. In 1995, the dispute was over a new budget that the GOP built from scratch. The Clinton White House didn’t run away from budgeting, nor did Democrats in the minority in both chambers of Congress. In this instance, the dispute is over a budget that Democrats didn’t even bother to write while they controlled both chambers of Congress, with a President who has remained as detached from budget negotiations as possible, and now with a Democrat-controlled Senate that won’t even bother to debate the budget while the CR expires.
If that’s what passes for a winning hand around Washington these days, then Democrats are far more desperate than we’d presumed until now. Under those circumstances, the blame for a shutdown will come squarely on the shoulders of the Democrats who failed in their constitutional duty to pass a budget on time while they had plenty of votes to do so.
Here’s the full letter from Senate Republicans, as well as a speech from Sessions explaining why we need to start getting serious about cuts and stop talking about “investments.” People who borrow 40% of what they spend don’t have the resources for more investments, and can’t pay for those already committed.