As the House reconvened Tuesday to consider stopgap appropriations resolutions for Veterans Affairs and museums in D.C. including the Smithsonian, Senate Democratic leaders took to the floor to ridicule the latest gambit.
The House also brought up a measure to allow the D.C. government to use local revenues.
The House VA plan generally would revive program funding at fiscal 2013 levels through mid-December — in line with the expiration date of the various House-passed continuing resolutions.
"As we've said a thousand times, we are happy to discuss how to to fund the government, but not with a gun to our heads," said New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer. "Open up all of the government, and then we're going to have a fruitful discussion."
"This is not serious. The government is shut down, and if they think they're going to come and nitpick us on this, it won't work," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said during the sequence of floor speeches.
Earlier Tuesday, Senate Republican leaders, headed up by Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, backed the House attempts to get the Senate to the bargaining table.
"It strikes me the House here is trying to be very reasonable in seeing if we can get to an outcome," McConnell said. "I can't answer the hypothetical about what happens next, but the House is going to continue to try to engage the majority leader, continue to try to engage the president, even though the majority leader and the president repeatedly say there's nothing to talk about."
The slice-and-dice stopgap approach moving in the House had been previously floated by GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah. On several occasions, Cruz recommended that the House pass standalone stopgap bills for departments and agencies that don't relate to implementation of Obamacare.
"My plan," Lee said, "would involve setting up segmented continuing resolutions, appropriations measures that would keep the funding going at current levels to various areas within government, including the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, military construction, [Commerce-Justice-Science], which includes funding for the Department of Justice, the federal court system, the FBI, NASA and the National Weather Service, for example."
The Cruz and Lee plan would exclude agencies involved in implementing the 2010 health care law (meaning that the Health and Human Services and Treasury departments would be difficult to open up again).
Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois called that idea the "height of irresponsibility."
"It is reckless for this senator from Texas to decide well, OK, tomorrow veterans and national parks, and maybe later on we'll get around to medical research, or maybe we'll get around to criminal administration in the Department of Justice," Durbin said. "Maybe we'll get around to bring the people back to the intelligence agencies who are monitoring terrorists all over the ... world who threaten the United States."
"These are real lives and real people doing real work for the United States of America. Using them as political pawns is an embarrassment," Durbin said. "It's an embarrassment to this institution and those who are pushing this agenda."