Yet again, Congress searches for a short-term budget fix

With little time left to sign a spending bill and avert a government shutdown, President Obama on Thursday attempted to put the crisis of chemical weapons in Syria on hold and refocus Washington's attention on domestic issues.

Yet with partisan relations as fractured as ever -- not to mention relations between Republican leaders and tea partiers -- the White House and Congress are setting their sights on short-term economic fixes, which has become standard operating procedure for lawmakers in recent years.

"Even as we have been spending a lot of time on the Syria issue and making sure that international attention is focused on the horrible tragedy that occurred there, it is still important to recognize that we've got a lot more stuff to do here in this government," Mr. Obama said ahead of a White House meeting with members of his Cabinet.

The meeting, the president said, was assembled to talk about streamlining government operations and "managing some of the budget debates that are going to be taking place over the next several weeks."

"The American people are still interested in making sure that our kids are getting the kind of education they deserve, that we're putting people back to work," he said, "that we are dealing properly with a federal budget, that bills are getting paid on time, that the full faith and credit of the United States is preserved."

If Congress doesn't send Mr. Obama a spending bill by Sept. 30, the federal government would partially shut down. Quickly after that, Congress will have to raise the nation's debt limit or risk letting the government default on its loans. As these deadlines approach, Democrats and Republicans remain deadlocked over federal spending levels -- lawmakers either want to restore the spending slashed as part of sequestration, or replace the sequester with "smarter" spending cuts.

The White House consequently acknowledged Thursday that it would accept a spending bill (referred to as a continuing resolution, or CR) that would keep spending at sequester levels for at least another three months.

"When you're talking about short-term extensions, we would consider a clean CR that prevents a shutdown and allows time for Congress to find a long-term solution to its budget challenges when it comes to avoiding a shutdown," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday. "But there are bigger issues that need to be resolved here, as we all know."

Carney added, "We will not, absolutely, accept the Republican budget approach that further slashes these investments our economy and the American families need."

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to talk a big game when it comes to spending cuts.

"You can't talk about increasing the debt limit unless you're willing to make changes and reforms that begin to solve the spending problem that Washington has," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Thursday. "And unless we deal with our spending problem honestly and forthrightly, the American dream is going to be out of their reach for our kids and grandkids."

But before House Republicans can truly negotiate with Democrats, they have to resolve their own differences over using the budget debate as leverage for repealing Obamacare. Earlier this week, House leaders had to delay a vote on their continuing resolution because several conservatives said they couldn't support it until they were assured it would do more to slow down Obamacare. Boehner admitted Thursday there are still "a lot of discussions going on about how to deal with the CR and the issue of Obamacare."

Boehner argued the GOP's focus on dismantling the Affordable Care Act is an economic pursuit because the law is "driving up the cost of health care, and making it harder for small businesses to hire new workers." Republicans on Thursday also seized on the news that the AFL-CIO has formally aired its complaints over Obamacare to show that the law will have negative consequences on the health care sector and the overall economy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday that Democrats have shown they're willing to amend Obamacare if Republicans put forward ways to improve it. He said, however, that Republicans should stop engaging in "guerrilla attacks" on the law.

"Their direction is a direction to shutting down the government. This is not the time for political stunts," Reid said. "If the Republican leaders keep giving in to the tea party and their impossible demands, they must be rooting for shutdown."

Reid and Boehner met on Thursday morning, along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to discuss the upcoming budget deadlines.

"It was not a yelling at each other meeting. It was a very nice meeting that we had," Reid said, adding that he "had to be very candid" with Boehner. "I told him very directly that all these things they are trying to do the Obamacare is just a waste of their time."

Comments