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Reid, Boehner Downplay Talk of Government Shutdown

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said today he is “cautiously optimistic” that Congress can pass stopgap spending legislation before the end of next week and avoid a government shutdown.

“It's up to the House,” Reid said at a news conference.

Congress has through Sept. 30 to pass a continuing resolution or federal programs would shut down because of a lack of funds.

Reid hinted that Congress might have to work into the weekend, which would encroach on a scheduled recess next week for both the House and Senate.

But he also wouldn’t rule out resolution of the matter before the weekend.

“Magic occurs on Thursday nights” before a recess, Reid said.

Democratic leaders are waiting to see how House Republican leaders will change their CR — which would keep the government funded through Nov. 18 — after 48 Republicans and all but six Democrats voted against the measure and prevented it from passing the House on Wednesday evening.

At a separate news conference, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) shrugged off Wednesday’s loss, maintaining, “There’s no threat of a government shutdown. Let’s just get this out there.

“I’ve always believed in allowing the House to work its will,” Boehner said. “I understood what the risk was yesterday, but why not put the bill on the floor and let the Members speak? And that’s what they did.”

The Speaker said he would lay out several CR options at a GOP Conference meeting this afternoon to figure out a path forward. He acknowledged the difficult situation of trimming the cost of the CR to garner more conservative votes but doing so at the risk of having it fail in the Senate.

“Welcome to my world,” he quipped.

Conservative Republicans abandoned the House CR because it adheres to the $1.043 trillion discretionary spending level set in last month’s debt ceiling deal. Those conservatives preferred to spend at the $1.019 trillion level set out in House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget resolution, which the House adopted in April.

Reid reiterated his warning that House GOP leaders should keep to the higher spending levels struck under the hard-fought agreement this summer to boost the debt ceiling.

“It would be a violation of the legislation that we worked on so hard to get passed,” if Republicans reduced spending levels, Reid said.

Some Republicans see the $1.043 trillion figure as a cap that cannot be breached, but spending less would not violate the agreement. Therefore, House GOP leaders could be tempted to go with a lower level to win over the conservatives who opposed the bill Wednesday.

Reid said that interpretation is not correct.

“Whoever is suggesting that simply wasn’t part of the negotiations and didn’t vote for the legislation,” Reid said. “The legislation speaks for itself.”

Democrats also oppose the House CR because they believe the $3.6 billion it would provide for disaster relief is inadequate and that such funds should not be offset.

“We should not have to come back in the middle of November with the pittance they have put forward and start [negotiating] again to keep people working,” Reid said.

The Senate passed a bill last week that would provide nearly $7 billion for disaster funding, which Senate leaders want the House to pass.

Democrats also oppose language in the House bill designed to offset about $1 billion of the disaster spending by cutting funds for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program, which helps the auto industry retool or expand factories to produce fuel-efficient technology. They argue that the program creates jobs and to cut it when the unemployment rate is hovering around 9 percent is not good policy.

Reid noted that the pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce also opposes the offset.

At his news conference, Boehner sought to place blame on House Democrats for voting in droves against a CR that “was designed to be a bipartisan bill.” He said that GOP leaders “had every reason to believe our counterparts across the aisle would support it.”

Democrats have disputed that claim. Katie Grant, a spokeswoman for Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), said her boss “was clear as early as last Friday that Democrats were concerned about the partisan CR that failed last night, and he told Republicans at the beginning of this week that they could not count on Democratic votes.”

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