Chances of averting government shutdown appear slim
By Tom Curry, National Affairs Writer, NBC News
The chances of averting a partial shutdown of the federal government seemed to vanish Sunday as leading members of Congress blamed their opponents for being unwilling to come to an agreement on a spending bill keep government operations running.
The House voted late Saturday night to delay President Barack Obama's health care overhaul for a year – a move which made it almost inevitable that a partial shutdown -- which would idle tens of thousands of federal workers -- will start Monday at midnight.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said Sunday that the Senate would reject two amendments the House passed late Saturday night – one to delay Obamacare for a year and another to repeal the tax on medical device manufacturers that was included in the Affordable Care Act.
The Senate is scheduled to meet Monday afternoon at 2 p.m. and there were no indications of a change in that plan despite calls Sunday from two Republican senators -- Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn and conservative leader Sen. Ted Cruz, both from Texas -- for Reid to bring the Senate back into session on Sunday.
Not only was there was no sign that Reid would call a Sunday session but some senators – including Durbin -- were in their home states hundreds of miles from the nation's capital.
When the Senate takes up the House measure Monday, it seems likely that Reid will offer a motion to table, or kill, it.
Under Senate rules, such a motion can't be debated; therefore no filibuster or delaying tactic by Cruz or others is possible.
Starting last Tuesday, Cruz held the Senate floor for 21 hours to dramatize his effort to block Obamacare.
What will the House do after the Senate acts on Monday?
House Republican Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California said on Fox News Sunday that the House will "get back together in enough time" to avert a government shutdown and will "send another provision not to shut the government down, but to fund it, and it will have a few other options in there for the Senate to look at again….there will be additions that I have found in the Senate that Senate Democrats have said they can support."
Bipartisan accord did seem likely on at least one point: that the Senate will concur to a bill passed by the House Saturday night that would ensure that members of the Armed Forces get paid even if there is a partial government shutdown.
That bill also ensures that civilian Defense Department personnel, Department of Homeland Security personnel, and outside military contractors whose jobs involve support of active-duty military members would also get paid as they normally do.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., whose state is home to large military bases such as the homeport of the Navy's Atlantic fleet at Norfolk, said on Fox News Sunday the Senate "in all likelihood" will approve the House bill on military pay. "I don't suspect that will be too controversial."
Apart from that, bipartisan agreement seemed only a remote possibility, if Sunday's talk show rhetoric was any indication.
"If Harry Reid forces a government shutdown, that will be a mistake. I hope he backs away from that ledge that he's pushing us towards," Cruz said on NBC's Meet the Press.
"Why won't the president negotiate and come to a compromise about trying to make Obamacare less bad?" asked Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on CBS's Face the Nation.
The Kentucky conservative said that Obama was "the one saying, ‘I will shut down government if you don't give me everything I want on ‘Obamacare.' That, to me, is the president being intransigent and being unwilling to compromise."
But Durbin said on CBS's Face the Nation said federal workers "will be the victims of this Republican shutdown strategy – but even more important it hurts our economy. For goodness' sakes, we're just starting the recovery."
Asked about potential compromise or negotiations, Durbin lamented, "Look who we have to work with on the other side," implying that most congressional Republicans could not be reasoned with.
On the possibility of repealing the medical device tax, which is expected to collect $20 billion between now and 2019, Durbin said, "We can even talk about the future of that tax. Let's do it in a responsible way with replacement revenue." He said he was willing to look at replacing the tax, "but not with a gun to my head, not with the prospect of shutting down the government."
But Cruz contended that the House move Friday night to delay – rather than defund -- Obamacare shows that Republicans are in fact willing to compromise. "That's the essence of a compromise," he told NBC's David Gregory.
The Texas Republican noted that the Obama administration announced in July it was delaying for a year the requirement under the health care law that employers pay penalties if they don't offer health insurance to their workers or if they offer a plan which doesn't meet the law's standards. Why not also delay the law's requirement for individual Americans, Cruz asked.