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GOP Aims To Corner Dems By Partially Funding Government

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AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

The purported aim of the conference committee is to work out a compromise to the budget impasse. The actual aim is to force unilateral concessions from Democrats that they cannot achieve through regular channels. That's why the Democratic-led Senate voted on Tuesday morning to reject going to conference on a short-term CR.

The new piecemeal budget plan comes after House Republican leadership portrayed Democrats as unwilling to negotiate and hash out their differences.

"We're here to say to Senate Democrats, come and talk to us. This is how we resolve our differences and can work our way out of this," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told reporters Tuesday at noon, even tweeting a photograph of Republican leadership on one side of a table. "Senate Democrat refuse to even discuss these proposals."

"They won't even talk," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "They literally just voted against working out an agreement."

What has ensued is essentially a staring contest: House Republicans demand that Democrats come to the table, but Senate Democrats aren't budging and insist they won't negotiate with a gun to their heads.

"It is embarrassing that these people who are elected to represent the country are representing the tea party, the anarchists of the country, and the majority of the Republicans in the House are following them every step of the way," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) early Tuesday morning, after the House had raised the idea of conference.

"This is not serious," he said later of the GOP's partial funding strategy. "If they think they can come and nitpick us on this, it's not going to work."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the piecemeal strategy reflects an "utter lack of seriousness" on the part of Republicans. "If they want to open the government, they should open the government," he told reporters on Tuesday. "Then we can negotiate about how we fund our budget priorities in the future."

"Senator Ted Cruz is now going to pick his favorite federal agencies to reopen? Come on," said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democratic in the chamber.

Some House Republicans are deeply frustrated with what they see as a self-defeating strategy, but even they are holding the line. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) told reporters that a "clean" CR, or a bill that would fund government at current levels, never came up in the GOP meeting Tuesday. "We've come this far," said the congressman, who famously called his conservative colleagues "lemmings" on Monday. "Now we have to stick with the Ted Cruz-lemmings strategy."

The House was set to vote on piecemeal bills later Tuesday afternoon, according to a Republican leadership aide, to protect military veterans, re-open national parks and museums and provide local funding for the District of Columbia.

The reason Democrats won't negotiate on the CR is that they believe if they reward Republicans for brinkmanship, it'll continue into debt ceiling debate and the next round of budget negotiations -- and the one after that. They want to teach them that hostage-taking won't work, so they're demanding the House pass a clean CR and then initiate House-Senate talks to resolve broader budget differences.

Republicans have formally rejected bicameral budget negotiations 18 times since April. And House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) dismissed that offer Tuesday, effectively validating Democrats' concerns by arguing that his party's strategy is to use the debt ceiling as a cudgel to achieve more budgetary reforms.

"We've wanted to go to a budget conference when we thought we had more likelihood of getting an agreement," Ryan told reporters. "If we went prematurely, that would decrease the likelihood we would have gotten a budget agreement."

"We have a debt limit coming. That limit is coming up in two weeks," he said. "That's what we think will be the forcing action that will bring the two parties together. Our goal and motivation here is to get a budget agreement, and we think this is the way to do that."

About The Author

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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.