What a difference three hours can make in Washington’s never-ending news cycle, especially when the country is teetering on the brink of default.
This morning, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., was optimistic that the Senate would pass a resolution to reopen the federal government, raise the federal debt limit and establish a framework for future budget negotiations.
“I think in the Senate we’ve reached an accord,” Kaine told reporters in a late-morning conference call. “It’s a good accord that’s right for the country.”
But even as Kaine was speaking, Republicans in the House of Representative were preparing to float a new proposal to end the shutdown and extend the government’s ability to borrow, which will expire Thursday without Congressional action. The new Republican proposal put the brakes on an emerging Senate compromise and triggered another round of partisan bickering in the nation’s capital.
By this afternoon, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., was not sharing Kaine’s optimism.
“It appears those negotiations have stalled in the Senate because of the reckless actions of a small group in the House,” Warner said in his own conference call with reporters.
When a reporter told Warner that he sounded exasperated, the senator said: “Exasperated is putting it mildly.”
“I think we’re going to be right up against the edge of Thursday, and that is assuming that everything goes well and some of the destructive forces don’t try to object or throw procedural hurdles,” Warner said.
Even if the country avoids default, Warner said the shutdown and the political brinksmanship in Washington has exacted a toll on the economy and the national psyche.
“The damage that’s being done each day by this political circus is really unprecedented,” said Warner, who has been trying to push Congress toward a long-term debt and deficit-reduction deal that would require compromises by both parties.
“I feel a little bit like the little boy the little boy who cried wolf,” Warner said. “This time the wolf may really be at the door. Yet we’ve kind of inured people to the expectation that we’re going to solve it at the eleventh hour. We may again. But each time we come up to 11:59, we rob the world of a little more confidence in American leadership.
The Senate’s plan would extend government operations at current funding levels through mid-January and raise the debt ceiling to allow the Treasury to borrow normally through early February.
With those two matters resolved for the short term, Kaine said this morning, Congress could then concentrate on returning to the traditional appropriations system.
“The only way to get this to work is to go back to the regular budgetary process,” he said.
That would be the proper venue for resolving differences between the two parties — as opposed to bringing the government to a stop as a leveraging tool, he said.
“The shutdown was unnecessary, the House didn’t have to push it to that…but now we’re going to have an opportunity to get this right,” Kaine said.
The senator was asked why the same partisan stalemate that led to the current situation would not prohibit future agreements on a budget.
“I would hope that it will be different because folks in Congress would be embarrassed by the events of the past two weeks,” Kaine said.
Warner said both parties will have to make concessions to come up with a long-term plan to address the debt and deficit. Otherwise, he said, this month’s unsavory political spectacle will be a recurring event.
“Until Democrats are willing to give on entitlement reform and Republicans are willing to give on revenues through tax reform, we are going to keep coming back to this problem time and again,” Warner said. “My goal would be not only continuing to work to avoid this immediate crisis, but be part of any bipartisan group that’s willing to put the bigger bargain back on the table. You can’t keep punting on this issue and have the American economy recover or have anybody’s faith in our government institutions recover.”
Update (7:20 p.m.): The suspension of negotiations has turned Kaine’s optimism into disappointment tonight. In a statement issued by his office tonight, Kaine said: “the suspension of bipartisan negotiation in exchange for more partisan gamesmanship is a reckless development as the nation suffers under a government shutdown and the threat of default.”
“It is absolutely clear that solving our nation’s fiscal challenges in a divided Congress will require a bipartisan process where House and Senate, Democrat and Republican, agree to compromise for the good of the country,” he said. “That is the reason why the bipartisan negotiation in the Senate held such promise.
“I ask my Senate colleagues – Democrat and Republican – to renew the effort to promote a bipartisan compromise that involves a budget conference between both houses. That is the only way to solve our current fiscal crisis.”
– Michael Sluss and Laurence Hammack