Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer has become a top target for Republicans on the federal spending fight.
“The House Republicans are used to getting away with hurling brickbats, but they’re not used to getting hit by a two-by-four, and that’s what Sen. Schumer is doing,” a Senate Democratic aide said. “They are very sensitive to the ‘Boehner in a box’ scenario because it’s true, and when Schumer keeps on pointing it out, it gets under their skin.”
Still, several Republicans said Schumer has given them fresh momentum in the fight; they argued that it has helped the GOP demonstrate to tea party activists and other conservatives that the party is not giving in to Democratic demands and that Democrats will be blamed for any government shutdown.
“All Schumer has done is remind people that Senate Democrats are unwilling to cut spending. He just couldn’t avoid the camera, pipe down and let negotiations happen,” another GOP aide said, adding that while attacks on the tea party may play well with his base, “they don’t play well with anybody else.”
Despite the public back-and-forth between Schumer and House Republicans, sources close to negotiations on a long-term spending plan said progress is being made. Those sources added that Republicans and Democrats alike believe a shutdown is increasingly unlikely. The current stopgap spending bill expires on April 8.
An official close to the negotiations said Vice President Joseph Biden, the Office of Management and Budget and Hill leaders had conversations “at multiple levels” throughout the day on Tuesday. The source said many are still holding out hope for a deal before Friday, even though the clock is ticking and progress is slow.
“The fact that everyone is still engaging in conversations means there is still a chance people will come together on this,” the official said.
The latest concession is coming from Congressional Democrats, who are planning to put forward a proposal to cut an additional $20 billion. The White House backs the plan, which includes a mix of cuts to discretionary and mandatory spending. Proposed cuts to mandatory spending are expected to go beyond Medicaid and Medicare.
But this compromise is about as far as the White House is willing to go.
“We’ve already made so many compromises. When you talk about an additional $1 to $2 to $3 billion in cuts, you’re talking about really, really hard budget decisions,” the official said. “There’s little left to give without undermining the health of the country.”
Boehner on Tuesday acknowledged that negotiations were ongoing, but he refused to discuss specifics and said no deal is imminent
“There are a lot of numbers that have been discussed,” he said. But “the fact is there is not an agreement on a number,” Boehner added.
“Nothing’s agreed to until everything’s agreed to.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.