With the shutdown underway, they tried to rewrite the normal congressional appropriations process (which is in a shambles right now) by offering a series of bills that would selectively fund popular programs and personnel. They wanted to help veterans and the National Institutes of Health. The message they have conveyed is that, until they get concessions on the health-care law, they will keep the government closed except for the parts they want to be open. This time, Obama and the Democrats refused to go along.
Meanwhile, Republicans expressed surprise and outrage that government monuments or park areas controlled by the National Park Service have been closed or restricted, claiming the president was being punitive and political. Some House Republicans went to the World War II Memorial and barked at Park Service employees to show their displeasure.
The shutdown is becoming a checkerboard of things functioning and things closed. Significant portions of the government were never to be shut down. Mandatory spending programs were exempt from the beginning. Social Security checks have continued to go out.
Over the weekend, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called back almost all civilian employees of his department. At the same time, the House passed another bill assuring that all furloughed federal workers will receive back pay when the shutdown ends. The vote was unanimous.
Even some House Republicans question the logic of continuing the shutdown under these circumstances, but logic has not been the prevailing motivator these past two weeks.
Given the mandatory carve-outs and the decision to guarantee back pay for all workers, the shutdown will not save money. But it continues to leave programs and people who depend on the government for help, but who have little clout or visibility, vulnerable until everything officially reopens.
On Sunday, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) remained defiant during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.” He said there were not enough votes in the House to pass a “clean” bill to reopen the government, even on a short-term basis. Democrats and some Republicans dispute Boehner’s claim that a spending measure shorn of demands by his party to somehow change the health-care law could pass the House. On Monday, Obama dared him to put the legislation on the floor.
With hopes of blocking Obamacare in Congress nonexistent, Boehner appeared Sunday to shift his focus to the Oct. 17 deadline for raising the federal debt ceiling. He drew another bright line. “The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit,” he said. Boehner demanded that Obama begin negotiating with Republicans. “He knows what my phone number is,” the speaker said of the president. “All he has to do is call.”
The dangers for Boehner and the Republicans are obvious. The longer this standoff continues, the more he and his leadership team will be defined by the most hard-line constituency in the GOP coalition. Obama has his own calculations to make as the debt-ceiling deadline nears and he weighs the consequences of default and whether there is any realistic prospect for a deal on entitlements, spending and taxes. But it is the Republicans who decided to risk pushing the country to the brink.