House Democrats who once vigorously asserted that they would oppose the spending level in the House-passed continuing resolution are now signaling some flexibility.
It's a sign of the political realities settling in, that the clock is ticking swiftly toward a potential government shutdown on Oct. 1 and neither party can identify how a compromise is reached.
At a news conference Friday morning, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reiterated that she and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., were in favor of passing a short-term spending bill above the CR's current sequester level of $986 billion.
When asked how she felt about passing a bill at the sequester level even for 45 days, however, Pelosi demurred: "We'll see what the Senate sends back to us."
The Senate voted shortly after the conclusion of Pelosi's briefing on legislation that would maintain those spending levels, run through Nov. 15 and omit language to defund the 2010 health care law.
On Friday afternoon, Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California, who had the week before said he wasn't prepared to support a CR at $986 million, also seemed to dodge the question.
"Democrats would like to have a clean bill. Democrats are ready to make tough choices and hard decisions," Becerra said. "But it's tough when, right now, on Friday afternoon, three short days before the government is gonna shut down, our Republican colleagues still haven't said what they're going to do."
The fear, of course, is that Democrats could be accused of playing politics with the CR.
On Wednesday evening, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, also seemed less certain about whether she would, at the eleventh hour, withhold a "yes" vote on an otherwise "clean" CR at the $986 million level; she had the week before sent a pretty clear message that she was a firm "no."
The Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairmen Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota still plan to whip against a sequester-level bill, however. Individual Democratic lawmakers have also pledged to stand against such a bill, including Reps. James P. Moran of Virginia, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Barbara Lee of California.
Throughout Friday, House Democrats were in a holding pattern as they waited for Republican leadership to formulate a game plan to move the CR forward. GOP leaders have been tight-lipped, but they are likely to amend the Senate-passed spending measure with another provision that would delay the effects of Obamacare — perhaps a one-year delay of the individual-mandate implementation, or a repeal of the medical device tax used to fund the health care law.
The full House Republican Conference is scheduled to meet on Saturday at noon, at which time a plan could be revealed. The chamber will likely be voting on business relating to the CR Saturday and Sunday in advance of their Monday deadline to reach an agreement with the Senate and the White House.
In the meantime, Becerra was joined by Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York and Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland for a news conference, in which they did make one position perfectly clear: They would not be supporting any continuing resolution, no matter the duration, that contained provisions unrelated to the budget. And especially not relating to Obamacare.
What do Democrats think on the other side of the Capitol about the possibility that Congress would have to ultimately swallow a one-year delay of the health care law?
"That's bullshit. That's not going to happen," offered Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "The exchanges open on Tuesday, and we're going to go ahead with it."