October 5, 2013
WASHINGTON — It’s become a common House Republican talking point that Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama could end the shutdown of the government if they simply chose to negotiate.
“What we are looking at here again is an administration and president that seems to be unwilling to sit down and talk to us,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) bemoaned at a press conference on Saturday morning.
While Cantor is right that Democrats aren’t exactly in the talking mood, the suggestion that they aren’t wiling to negotiate ignores that they’ve already given Republicans a major win. The continuing resolution that the White House and congressional Democrats have agreed to funds the government at sequestration levels. And even some members of Cantor’s own caucus admit that they got the good end of that deal.
“It is a concession, I acknowledge that,” Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) told The Huffington Post on Saturday. “I was glad to see that lower number. It didn’t take defense spending into account. We still have a big discrepancy between the House and Senate version. But there has been some compromise and I acknowledge that.”
(Lamborn, for what it’s worth, is no centrist. He signed on to a letter saying a government shutdown was preferable to the implementation of Obamacare.)
So what have Democrats received in return for that compromise? If you ask many of them, they’d say “not a whole lot.” Progressives complained bitterly that funding the government at $988 billion would set a bad precedent for future negotiations. Administration officials acknowledge that it would hurt the president’s priorities. But they and the party’s congressional leadership made the case that a continuing resolution at that level would be tolerable provided it lasted for a short period of time and allowed for more substantial budget negotiations.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has insisted that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed with this basic deal, to which Boehner’s top spokesman, Michael Steel, replied: “We don’t discuss private conversations between the Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader.”
Clearly, a good number of House Republicans don’t believe that sequestration-level funding is sufficient. They want more concessions in exchange for opening the government. But to make that push while simultaneously arguing that Democrats are the ones not willing to negotiate is an act of political jiujitsu.
On Saturday morning, The Huffington Post pushed Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) to explain the party’s top talking point. A transcript of the exchange is below:
HuffPost: Democrats would argue that they have given you something. They’ve agreed to sequester-level funding. What do you say to that?
Farenthold: The sequester was agreed to in the last Congress. We got to keep moving the ball forward and don’t stop.
HuffPost: They would like it to be higher though and they are willing to keep it at this level, is that a concession?
HuffPost: I don’t see it as a concession. Just like Obamacare is the current law of the land, the Budget Control Act is the current law of the land.
Other Reporter: But you are asking for changes to Obamacare.
Farenthold: All right, so they can ask for changes to sequester and maybe that is where we come together. But they won’t sit down and talk to us.
HuffPost: But they are asking for changes to sequester. They would like a higher funding level.
Farenthold: All right, so where are the conferees from the Senate to talk about that?
HuffPost: To talk about what?
Farenthold: So, all right. We up some of the numbers there; they give on Obamacare. I don’t know if that would fly, but nobody is talking about it.
HuffPost: Would that be okay for you if you upped some spending in exchange for a delay or a change in Obamacare?
Farenthold: I would have to see what the offer is. Generally, no. I think that part of our problem is that we are spending so much more than we are taking in.