SHUTDOWN: Why Democrats Rejected The GOP’s 11th Hour Conference Gambit

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The House GOP’s 11th hour gambit prior to a government shutdown Monday night was rejected by Senate Democrats who saw it for what it was: a Republican attempt to use the funding deadline to extract unilateral policy concessions they cannot normally achieve.

As a result, the federal government shut down at midnight for the first time since 1996, furloughing hundreds of thousands of federal workers and closing federal services like national parks and museums until Congress can resolve the budget impasse.

House GOP leaders initiated a call for conference committee negotiations with the Senate to achieve a resolution on a stopgap bill to temporarily keep the government funded. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) swiftly rejected it, calling on the GOP to agree to keep the government funded at status quo spending levels and negotiate a real budget.

“We will not go to conference with a gun to our head,” Reid said on the Senate floor. He spoke after the chamber had voted down a third attempt by House Republicans to derail Obamacare as a price for keeping the government open.

It gives Republicans the talking point they want: Democrats won’t negotiate.

“Reid rushed to the floor and [Nancy] Pelosi to the mics because they know it’s unsustainable to not negotiate in a divided government,” said a House GOP leadership aide.

The reality is less simple. The reason Congress is mired in repeated fiscal crises is that Republicans have thwarted budget conference negotiations since April, when the two chambers passed their own deeply divergent budget resolutions. Senate Democrats have requested conference negotiations 18 times and Republicans have denied their request each time.

“After blocking Senate Democrats’ attempts to start a budget conference 18 times over the past six months, Republicans are now scrambling to start a conference committee with mere minutes to go before a government shutdown,” said Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-WA). “If Republicans were truly serious about avoiding a crisis they would pass the Senate’s short-term funding bill to remove the threat of a government shutdown immediately. We won’t negotiate while Republicans are threatening families and the economy with a crisis.”

Republicans have lofty conservative policy goals and cannot achieve them through the regular legislative process as long as Democrats control the White House and Senate. So they’ve decided to take must-pass bills like government funding hostage and demand unilateral concessions from President Barack Obama and Democrats. Agreeing on a budget conference would require them to compromise on taxes and spending — which the GOP has no interest in doing. They want to protect their gains and build on them.

Senior Republicans admitted their real goal was to keep chipping away at Obamacare.

“House Republicans still desire to delay or defund or disband Obamacare and we’re going to stick to this effort,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX).

Reid dismissed the Senate shortly after midnight. The House voted 228-199 to request a conference committee early Tuesday morning, and Senate Democrats vowed to strike it down when the chamber returned after reconvening at 9:30 a.m. ET.

“Don’t do a conference as a charade while you’re shutting the government down,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “That’s what the other side is asking us to do.”

This article was updated at 1:11 am ET.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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