Democrats and Republicans blamed each other for the latest battle over government funding today, even as they acknowledged a third showdown over a government shutdown does not look good for Congress.
Sen. Mark Warner said it’s “embarrassing” that Congress is involved in another standoff over government funding.
“Can we once again inflict on the country and the American people the spectacle of a near government shutdown? I sure as heck hope not,” the Virginia Democrat said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Congress has through Friday to pass a continuing resolution or the government will run out of money. The House passed a CR on Thursday, but the Senate voted the measure down Friday. Democrats oppose the House bill, in part, because it offsets about $1.1 billion of $3.6 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster funding. The offsets come from green jobs programs Democrats don’t want cut.
Senate Democrats have proposed passing a measure that doesn’t include the offsets, but it is not clear whether they have the votes. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would need at least seven Republicans to help him reach a filibuster-proof 60 votes, assuming all Democrats support the proposal. That key procedural vote is scheduled for Monday evening.
Even if the bill does pass, it’s unclear whether House Republican leaders will take it up given they have adjourned the chamber for a scheduled weeklong recess in an effort to force the Senate to pass their bill.
Warner blamed tea party-inspired conservatives in the House for the impasse.
“There is a group, and I do believe it is centered in the House in terms of some of these tea party Republicans, who say on every issue, ‘We’re going to make this a make or break,’” Warner said.
But Sen. Lamar Alexander, on the same program, said the onus of the current showdown is on Reid.
“I’ll give the Senate Democratic leader most of the credit,” the Tennessee Republican said. “He’s manufactured a crisis all week about disaster, when there’s no crisis.”
Alexander said there’s no question that emergency aid will be provided to states that have experienced natural disasters this year, adding that the House offset is reasonable to help make sure the disaster funds do not add to the debt or deficit.
But Warner countered that emergency disaster aid should not have to be offset, noting that the war in Iraq was not offset with cuts to other government programs.
“Why should we rebuild schools in Iraq on the credit card but expect that rebuilding schools in Joplin, Missouri, at this point in time have to be paid for?” Warner asked, referring to a devastating tornado that hit Joplin this year.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” said that he doesn’t believe the government will shut down and urged Reid to pass the House measure.
“The government is not going to shut down because most Americans want us to start to deal with the disasters in front of us and disasters to come; that is why we are trying to start to pay for things that we haven’t paid for before,” the South Carolina Republican said.
“The House proposal is reasonable,” he continued. “I would ask Harry Reid to take it.”
Graham said that if Democrats don’t like the House bill, they should offer an alternative that includes offsets they would prefer.
“You have to have priorities,” Graham said. “That is something we don’t seem to accept up here. The House version says that ... we are going to help people that have been affected by disasters, but we are going to start cutting the government in other places where the money is not so important. I support the idea of paying for this.”
Graham also reiterated his concerns with the deal to raise the debt ceiling, which created the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction that is developing a plan to reduce the deficit.
He said he is troubled by the automatic cuts, including $600 billion to defense, that would be triggered if the panel fails to produce a deficit reduction package or if Congress fails to pass one.
“At the end of the day, if this commission fails, there is a trigger cutting defense by $600 billion if they can’t perform their job,” Graham said.
“I will introduce legislation to protect the Defense Department from devastating cuts,” he added. Secretary of Defense “Leon Panetta said when I asked him if you take $600 billion out of defense on top of what we are already trying to do, you will be shooting the country in the head.”
Graham’s bill would put in place a 5 percent across-the-board cut as a trigger, and he would cut pay to Members of Congress by 10 percent.
“I hope the super committee works, but if it fails, let’s don’t destroy the Defense Department,” Graham said.
Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, arrives for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the investigation of the IRS' targeting of political groups. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify and caused a protest from some committee members when she offered an opening statement and engaged in dialogue with members before invoking the right.
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