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Congress will trade partisan potshots over payroll tax cut plans this week, but one chronic issue is likely to be missing from the mix: the specter of a government shutdown.
Even as Washington became embroiled in a debate over how to extend the payroll tax cuts and long-term unemployment benefits, appropriators worked efficiently to wrap up spending legislation for the year. In doing so, they might have neutralized a key weapon for Democrats: the claim that Republicans engage in shutdown politics.
Unlike this year’s spending fights, during which some Democrats likened their disputes with the GOP to negotiating with terrorists, talk of a government shutdown has been absent from the pre-Christmas political theater.
Instead, debate over the three already-passed spending bills and nine more expected to see the light of day this week has been relatively smooth. If the remaining appropriations bills pass without issue, the criticism might be holstered until after the 2012 elections.
At a Friday news conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had harsh words for her Republican counterparts, saying they are “holding hostage” a payroll tax cut extension by adding provisions to defund health care reform and to fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline project.
“Time is growing short. Taking it to the limit of Dec. 23 or having to stay here over Christmas, it’s an inconvenience for us. But it’s really unfair to the American people,” the California Democrat said.
On appropriations, however, Pelosi struck a far more measured tone: “We’re hoping that we can, in a bipartisan way, get our work done on the appropriations bills,” she said, adding nothing more on the subject.
Republicans and Democrats have stripped House-passed bills of objectionable riders to draw the bipartisan support necessary to pass a large spending package.
The willingness to do so on the part of the GOP is a function of the fact that the major spending fight — the August battle to set spending levels at $1.043 trillion — is behind them, a GOP leadership aide said. An equally important factor driving the cooperation is the fact that the House Republican Conference — which was very conscious of Democrats’ shutdown attacks — came back from August recess ready to put that criticism to bed.
“The broad contours of the overall spending are set,” the aide said. “It’s important to show people that there’s no contradiction between fighting for our principles and governing.”
“The Democrats,” a second GOP leadership aide said, “have been saying all year that we want to shut down the government, and that’s never been the case. We haven’t shut down the government. They’re starting to sound like the boy who cried wolf.”