Cave Or Escalate? Harry Reid Faces Tough Choice In Government Shutdown Fight

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will have to choose quickly between caving to House Republicans and fighting back. At stake are relief funds for victims of natural disasters across the country and potentially a government shutdown.

In the wee hours of Friday morning, House Republicans passed divisive legislation that would avoid a government shutdown at the end of September. But it includes a provision that erects a new, controversial standard: emergency disaster relief funds must be offset by cutting federal programs the House minority likes.

Democrats are prepared to cut a deal on the amount of disaster aid Congress should provide FEMA. But they’re dead set against the concept of offsetting, and the particular offset the GOP chose: a hybrid vehicle manufacturing incentive that’s proven to create jobs.With their bill passed, and their chamber set to adjourn for a week-long recess, House Republicans say my way or the highway.

“The plan is for us to finish up our work tomorrow,” a tired House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told reporters Friday morning. He is in many ways the architect behind the offsetting principle. “I guess Harry Reid will have to bear the burden of denying disaster relief victims their money.”

As of Thursday night, Senate Democrats were livid and vowing to kill the House bill.

“The bill the House will vote on tonight is not an honest effort at compromise,” Reid said in an official statement. “It fails to provide the relief that our fellow Americans need as they struggle to rebuild their lives in the wake of floods, wildfires and hurricanes, and it will be rejected by the Senate.

“We’re fed up with this…we’re sick of it, we’re tired of it,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters after an emergency caucus meeting Thursday night.

On Friday morning, a top Senate Dem aide said the House bill is poison-pilled, and Democrats still plan to vote it down. That will leave Republicans to choose between coming back to town to cut a deal, or hanging back, refusing to compromise, and potentially shutting down the government.

A House GOP Leadership aide says it’s up to Reid now. “Senate Republicans are united, putting Harry Reid in a position of shutting down the government with FEMA in need on funds, or passing the House CR,” the aide said. “Considering the House CR is at the level Reid himself agreed to AND we doubled President Obama’s emergency request, it would seem to me be a terrible mistake for Reid and his members (especially those in an election year) to choose shutdown.”

President Obama in theory has the power to call the House back into session, but has resisted bold strokes during similar brinkmanship in the past. FEMA is expected to run out of disaster relief funds early next week. The entire government runs out of funds on September 30. The pressure’s rising.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM’s senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he’s led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com

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