Dems to GOP: No Obamacare extortion. Period, full stop.

October 1, 2013

House Republican leaders are now making it be known that they want to “negotiate” a way out of the government shutdown crisis. It’s unclear what Republicans would be willing to concede in this negotiation — if anything — and it’s also unclear why Democrats would want to be drawn into a negotiation in which only they are expected to make concessions. But that’s what Republicans are claiming. Other reports suggest Republicans may start to vote on bills funding the government piecemeal to ease political fallout from a shutdown.

In an interview with me today, Dem Rep. Chris Van Hollen responded to all the GOP chatter: No negotiations that tie funding of the government to the undermining of Obamacare. Period, full stop. Van Hollen also suggested current signs from the House GOP may mean the government could remain shut down for weeks — with the shutdown ultimately getting tied up in the debt limit fight, escalating the stakes enormously.

“We’re not going to negotiate the dismantling of Obamacare as part of keeping the government open,” Van Hollen said. “We are not going to go to a conference where they are threatening to shut down the government unless we derail the Affordable Care Act.”

Van Hollen said that if Republicans want to enter into budget negotiations, there’s a simple way to do that: Pass a clean CR funding the government at current levels, and enter into normal budget talks. He said Dems would likely support a clean CR in high enough levels for it to pass.

“We believe enough Dems can combine with some Republicans to pass a clean 6 week extension,” Van Hollen said. “Why has Speaker Boehner refused to allow a vote on a clean CR? The answer is his Tea Party wing is worried it will pass and we will keep the government open.”

Pressed on whether Dems would ever agree to repeal the medical device tax or nix subsidies to Congress or staff as part of talks on keeping the government open, Van Hollen said: “Democrats have been very clear: These are extraneous provision that have nothing to do with keeping the government open.”

Van Hollen said the current signs are that the government shutdown could drag on for some time. “It appears the Speaker is going to allow the reckless elements in his caucus to escalate this articifical crisis by wrapping the government shutdown fight into the fight over the debt ceiling,” he said.

Van Hollen also noted that if moderate and non-Tea Party Republicans really wanted a clean CR, as some reports suggest, they’d be making themselves heard: “We have to determine whether or not moderate Republicans are an extinct species. We keep hearing a small group of Tea Party extremists is running the show in the House. Well, where are the moderate voices?”

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Jonathan Bernstein | October 1, 2013