Inside (The Beltway) Scoop
Created by on 10/10/2013

By Jennifer Zeitzer

Government Shutdown Enters Second Week; Capitol Hill Shifts Attention to Debt Ceiling Increase

After a last minute round
of legislative ping pong at the end of September, Congress was unable to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to provide temporary funding for federal agencies, leading to the first government shutdown in 17 years. As the country entered the second week of the shutdown, there still haven’t been any substantive negotiations between the House and Senate on how to resolve the impasse, leading many to believe that the shutdown could continue for several more weeks. A meeting between President Obama and the congressional leadership (House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY) the day after the shutdown began did not produce any meaningful progress.

With no clear path forward, the House Republican leadership decided to pursue a strategy to pass individual bills to fund federal agencies one-by-one, rather than approve a comprehensive CR covering the entire government. On October 2, the House passed H J Res 73, the Research for Lifesaving Cures Act, by a vote of 254-171 (25 Democrats supported and one Republican opposed it). The bill would fund the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at the fiscal year (FY) 2013 post-sequester rate ($29.3 billion) through December 15, 2013. In addition to the NIH bill, more than a dozen agency-specific measures have been introduced in the House including legislation to provide appropriations for the National Park Service, Veterans programs, the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture Nutrition programs for low income people, the Head Start program, and the District of Columbia government.
Senate Democrats, however, are united in opposition to the bills NIH and other individual agencies, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) vowing not to bring any of those measures to the floor for a vote. The White House issued a “Statement of Administration Policy” noting that President Obama would veto those bills if they reached his desk. NDD United and the Coalition for Health Funding (FASEB is a member of both) also issued statements opposing the piecemeal approach to re-opening the government. 
As the fiscal stalemate continued, a growing number of House Republicans issued statements or publicly said they would join their Democratic colleagues in support of a “clean CR” to fund the government through mid-December without any additional policy conditions or provisions related to the Affordable Care Act. Although the group now includes more than 20 House Republicans, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) maintains that there are still not enough votes to bring a CR without conditions to the House floor.
The Speaker’s resistance to voting on a clean CR may be tied to a broader plan to combine a bill funding the government with a related issue that Congress will have to resolve this month. In late September, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent another letter to Congress stating that the debt ceiling must be lifted by October 17th or the U.S. government will not have enough cash on hand to meet its obligations. There are already signs that the debt ceiling fight could be worse than the debate on the CR.
Prior to the shutdown, conservative members of the House Republican caucus rejected a proposal drafted by their leadership to raise the debt ceiling for one year. The proposal included a number of provisions designed to appeal to House conservatives including approval of the Keystone oil pipeline, reform of the tax code, and changes in entitlement programs. Conservatives also expressed concern that the leadership’s proposal did not include any additional spending cuts.
To further complicate matters, after stating last week that he would not allow the U.S. to default on the debt ceiling, Speaker Boehner appeared to reverse course in an October 6 interview on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos” saying, “We’re not going to pass a clean debt limit increase.” President Obama and the Senate Democrats continue to attest that they will not negotiate on raising the debt ceiling and have introduced a bill to extend the nation’s borrowing authority for one year with “no strings or preconditions.”
A potential resolution to the ongoing funding and debt ceiling fight emerged on October 8 when three House Republicans (Representatives Pete Sessions, TX; Rob Woodall, GA; and Michael Burgess, TX) introduced HR 3273, the Deficit Reduction and Economic Growth Working Group Act of 2013. The bill, which passed by a vote of 227-186, would create a 20 member bipartisan, bicameral committee (similar to the failed “Supercommittee” that was unable to agree on a plan to avoid sequestration) to discuss a broader budget deal to resolve the dispute over the CR, the debt ceiling, and other fiscal issues. HR 3273 does not include a specific timetable for the new committee to act, and there is no trigger for additional action if the group does not reach an agreement. It is not clear if the bill will be considered by the Senate.