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Senate Democrats Not Ready to Risk Shutdown

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Reid demurred when asked whether he would demand revenue and a sequester fix in any funding bill to keep the government open.

Senate Democrats aren’t planning a shutdown showdown with Republicans over the sequester, as they prepare to move forward with an omnibus package keeping the government open past March 27, according to three senior Democratic aides.

After both parties’ sequester bills failed in the Senate on Thursday, lawmakers were already looking ahead to the expiring continuing resolution as the next deadline and opportunity to avert or alter the $85 billion in cuts set to go into effect Friday.

But Democratic leaders don’t seem willing to risk a government shutdown by insisting that any funding bill block all of the sequester’s cuts.

Democrats feel they could argue in a shutdown scenario that Republicans were shuttering the government to keep the sequester that their leadership has blamed on President Barack Obama.

“It’s not that we couldn’t win the argument if we had to, it’s that the willingness doesn’t seem to be there” from the White House, one senior Democratic aide said.

Unless the sequester’s effects are truly dramatic in the next three weeks — something no one is expecting — Democrats would be hard-pressed to risk a shutdown to block them, the thinking goes.

The hope among party leaders is that the heat will fall on the GOP in the coming months, as the effects of the sequester cuts become more apparent.

The White House repeatedly has declined to comment on the CR scenario, although the administration issued a veto threat Thursday on a Republican bill aimed at giving the White House more flexibility in carrying out the cuts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., when asked in a news conference whether he would demand revenue and a sequester fix in any funding bill keeping the government open, also demurred. Reid said it would depend on what House Republicans actually send over to the Senate.

The senior aide said Senate Democrats aren’t about to make a stand without the president. The current pickle — with cuts taking effect and no obvious way out — only underscores for some Democrats their concern that the White House gave away too much of its leverage in the fiscal-cliff deal by making most of the tax cuts permanent while only delaying the sequester for two months.

Obama ripped Senate Republicans on Thursday for blocking Senate Democrats’ sequester alternative and voting to “let the entire burden of deficit reduction fall squarely on the middle class.”

He said he would demand compromise at his meeting Friday with congressional leaders.

“We can build on the over $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction we’ve already achieved, but doing so will require Republicans to compromise. That’s how our democracy works, and that’s what the American people deserve,” Obama said.

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