Vt. delegation hits GOP on shutdown
MONTPELIER — Day nine of a federal government shutdown brought no real progress toward a resolution while members of Vermont’s congressional delegation continued to lay blame and apply pressure on Republicans to allow a vote on a clean budget.
The federal government has been partly shut down since Oct. 1. Republicans in the U.S. House continue to demand that federal health care reform be defunded or delayed as a precursor to restarting the government.
The situation has grown more grave as lawmakers face an Oct. 17 deadline to raise the nation’s debt ceiling or see the first-ever default by the U.S. government. House Republicans have tied raising the debt ceiling to allow the government to pay its bills to their party’s effort to chip away at the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats remain insistent that any negotiations over health care reform take place after government is reopened and the threat of default removed.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., attended a meeting Wednesday night with House Democrats at the White House and said President Barack Obama and the Democrats remain firmly united.
“It was very reassuring,” Welch said in a telephone interview after the meeting. “The president was very calm and resolute. He’s making the point that he’s always willing to negotiate but America always pays its bills.”
Welch said House Democrats expect Republican House Speaker John Boehner to honor an agreement they say was reached with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The agreement was a GOP-friendly budget number in exchange for a “clean” continuing resolution to fund the government without any efforts to chip away at Obamacare.
But Boehner abandoned the deal because of conservative Tea Party Republicans in the House, Welch said.
“The dilemma that the speaker faces is there’s a battle between the mainstream, fiscally responsible Republicans and the Tea Party,” he said.
Washington is now in an “Alice in Wonderland World” where more and more Republicans are becoming “debt default deniers,” according to Welch,
“We’ve got a growing body of Republicans here … who are saying it will be no big deal,” he said.
Meanwhile, speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also laid blame for the shutdown squarely on House Republicans.
“What the House is doing is playing Russian roulette with the U.S. economy and people’s lives,” Leahy said. “There is no excuse for it, and the speaker has two choices: Stop it, or continue to roll the dice with the U.S. economy and the lives of millions of American families and programs that protect our nation’s security.”
Despite the current stalemate, Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., said he believes public pressure from polls as well as pressure from Wall Street will force Boehner to abandon the Tea Party-driven demands.
“What’s happening is Wall Street and the big business community, the people who have huge influence over the GOP, are saying to Republicans that if you go forward and for the first time in the history of this country do not pay our debts, the United States economy — maybe the world economy — will be driven into dire straits,” Sanders said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
He said he believes mainstream Republicans will seize control and prevent a default.
“The graybeards of the Republican Party, the old-timers, are looking at the polls and beginning to think that they may lose control of the House and will not take over the Senate,” Sanders said. “I think what ends up happening now is some of the smarter Republicans who have some perspective begin to say, ‘You know what, this policy is a losing policy.’”
Welch echoed a similar sentiment.
“I just can’t believe John Boehner is going to allow this country to default,” he said. “I just can’t believe that.”
Challenges may loom in the Senate, too, though.
Sanders said he favors a growing movement among Senate Democrats to pass legislation to raise the debt ceiling for one year by changing Senate rules to prevent the GOP from launching a filibuster.
Such a move would allow the Democratic majority, who have 54 votes in their caucus, to pass the bill with a simple majority instead of requiring 60 votes.
“This idea, which seemed far-fetched months ago, is gaining more support right now,” Sanders said. “I can tell you, without naming names, that the very highest level of the Democratic leadership are starting to support this.”
The move is sure to infuriate Republicans, and could scuttle any plans for future bipartisan cooperation in the chamber. But Sanders said Republicans have consistently abused the rules.
“What people don’t understand is that it’s not just that legislation gets defeated,” he said. “We cannot even bring up legislation for a vote because of the current rules that exist. You have rules that can only work if you have a gentleman’s agreement, which is what we have historically had here.”
Leahy, meanwhile, has so far refrained from speculating on procedural moves to limit the filibuster during the current funding crisis, according to spokesman David Carle.
He said Leahy has been involved in previous discussions about potential reforms to Senate rules that would limit the ability of the minority to obstruct business. However, he said, Leahy “knows that changing the Senate’s rules has serious implications beyond the immediate effects.”
Leahy, in a statement, said Democrats in the Senate should not be forced to consider such measures.
“It shouldn’t take procedural changes to accomplish the responsible thing to keep our economy from going off the rails,” he said. “The Republican leadership in the House is letting a small but vocal faction to dictate their approach to a disastrous default, and they need to stop playing with fire.”
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