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Monday, October 7, 2013

No End In Sight To Government Shutdown

The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Monday, June 17, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The government shutdown continues and all eyes are on House Speaker John Boehner. Over the weekend, it seemed his position had hardened.

On the Sunday talk shows, Boehner rejected calls to reopen the government and raise the federal debt limit, saying that the House would not pass a so-called “clean” continuing resolution to get the government back up and running, unless President Obama agreed to negotiate.

But Boehner is demanding a conversation with the president. Some Democrats are hearing hope in that.

As ABC News Political Director Rick Klein blogs, “Squint a bit, though, and you can see the contours of a path out. Boehner is working to maintain GOP unity with his hard lines, and his interview probably did him good on that front. That unity only matters, though, if he gets President Obama to the negotiating table. Boehner is still looking for an out, but he’s going to need the president to help provide it. So far, the president sees no incentive to give.”

NPR’s Charlie Mahtesian also joins Here & Now from Washington for an update on where negotiations stand. (See audio at the top of the page.)




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.


I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. In a few minutes, one of today's winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine; they figured out how cells do their work and function. But first, how Washington isn't.

HOBSON: The government shutdown continues, as many wait to see what House Speaker John Boehner's next move will be. Over the weekend, it seemed his position had hardened. On the Sunday talk shows, Boehner rejected calls to reopen the government and raise the federal debt limit, saying that the House would not pass a so-called clean continuing resolution to get the government back up and running unless President Obama agreed to negotiate. Here he is on ABC's "This Week," talking about a clean resolution.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: There's no way we're to pass when the votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit, and the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us.

HOBSON: NPR's digital politics editor Charlie Mahtesian joins us now from Washington for the latest, and Charlie, let's start with what we just heard from John Boehner because there's a lot of question about this, of the idea that if you were to put this up for a vote, a clean continuing resolution to fund the government but not make changes to the health care law, that it would pass. Are the votes there to do that or not?

CHARLIE MAHTESIAN, BYLINE: Well, it depends on who you talk to, Jeremy. Democrats point to a letter that they released this weekend with close to 200 signatures that called for a vote on a clean, what's called a CR. And together with the 22 House Republicans who have also publicly called for a vote for the same, that would be enough votes to pass.

But Speaker Boehner says the opposite. He says there's not enough votes in the House at the moment. And now it's possible that he simply doesn't want to buck Tea Party conservatives and hold a vote, but it's true that there might be a change that he's right because he understands better than anyone that what those 22 congressman said isn't the same as an actual vote.

So when push comes to shove, some of those 22 Republicans may not be willing to vote with Democrats and against the majority of their party.

HOBSON: Peter King has said that the numbers would be much higher if it was a secret ballot.

MAHTESIAN: Right. He has said that, but you never know what the motivations of members are. You know, and there are primaries to think about back home, and I think that's probably part of Boehner's calculus.

HOBSON: Well, there was a point, though, where it looked like Boehner could bring a clean CR, as you say, to a vote. Why is he now refusing to do this? Because it was even brought up on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" that in July Boehner had gone to the majority leader, Harry Reid, in the Senate and offered to pass a clean funding resolution with no amendments to the health care law and that that was accepting and now he's reneging.

MAHTESIAN: Right. That was the talk of the Sunday show circuit yesterday, and Boehner's position is that while they definitely considered passing a clean CR, and there were conversations with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, his position is that there was never any actual deal. And clearly Reid sees things very differently. And that in a way explains why his language towards Speaker Boehner has been so unusually harsh or at least by congressional standards because today, for example, his office issued a press release that stopped just short of calling Boehner a liar, and he said that Boehner had a, quote, "credibility problem," and had a consistent pattern of saying things that fly in the face of facts or stand at odds with his past actions.

And so that's pretty tough stuff for the leader of the august Senate to say, and the tone of Reid's approach suggests that he very much feels misled.

HOBSON: Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew made the rounds on the shows yesterday and said that negotiations over the Affordable Care Act in order to get a deal are not going to go anywhere.

SECRETARY JACK LEW: We just spent the last several months with Congress creating this ridiculous choice where either you repeal the Affordable Care Act, or you shut down the government or default on the United States. That is not the way we should do business.

HOBSON: So Charlie, is there the chance of some sort of a short-term solution to this, to raise the debt ceiling maybe for a certain period of time and reopen the government and push this fight down the road?

MAHTESIAN: Well, Lew of course reiterated the president's called for short-term, stop-gap spending bill. But the reality is that there were no signs of serious negotiations over the weekend. Neither side appears to be giving an inch. And the October 17th deadline to raise the debt ceiling is fast approaching.

So it's beginning to look very likely - more likely - that the federal government remains closed through the week.

HOBSON: And what about the idea that this may all end up being solved with some sort of a grand bargain on taxes and spending. Is that possible?

MAHTESIAN: Well, here's one big problem with the grand bargain talk. When Speaker Boehner raised the idea at a White House meeting last week with the president and congressional leaders, according to one Democratic account from the event, the speaker was laughed at.

And the president of course has said he's open to pursuing a big budget deal but again, not until the government shutdown is over, and the debt limit is raised. So the idea of a grand bargain is something you hear floated much more by Republicans now because they'd like to alter the political narrative. And, you know, it's offered in some sense to help get out of a political box that they now find themselves in.

And also if you look on the other side of the aisle, it's not really an idea that many Democrats embrace for any number of reasons, among them the fact that it would viewed as a reward to Republicans for their approach to the current budget crisis.

HOBSON: Charlie, you know, the idea that this is more about Republicans saving face than actually some sort of a spending and debt solution has come up. There's this famous quote now from Republican Congressman Marlin Stutzman of Indiana telling the Washington Examiner" We're not going to be disrespected, we have to get something out of this, and I don't know what that even is. How much of this is just about the Republican Party at this point trying to save face and get something out of this?

MAHTESIAN: Boy would he like to take back that quote. He actually apologized pretty shortly afterwards. But, you know, there's no question there's a face-saving element to the re-emergence of the grand bargain talk, for example. And I think what we're seeing is maybe not necessarily the endgame but the beginning of a Republican realization that the effort to defund Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act didn't achieve its goal and that they now run the risk of losing the politics of the shutdown if they can't show some kind of trophy at the end of this debate. And no matter which side you're talking about, whether it's the Democrats or the Republicans, when the dust clears, each party needs to be able to show its base that it achieved or accomplished something from this impasse.

HOBSON: Charlie Mahtesian is NPR's digital politics editor. Charlie, thanks as always.

MAHTESIAN: Thank you, Jeremy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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