CAPITOL HILL — A shooting incident outside the U.S. Capitol building briefly halted deliberations in both houses of Congress Thursday. When activity resumed, lawmakers remained far apart on a path to fund the U.S. government, which has been partially closed since Tuesday.
The political dynamic of the federal shutdown is unchanged. Many Republican lawmakers want to restore government funding through negotiations that, presumably, would include Republican agenda items. The president and Democratic lawmakers remain adamant that talks can go forward on any topic Republicans desire, but only after the government reopens.
Even so, a looming deadline for raising America’s debt ceiling is beginning to alter the debate. Unless Congress increases the federal borrowing limit in the next two weeks, the nation risks a debt default and a credit downgrade. Thus, even if the shutdown were to end this week, another potential fiscal crisis awaits.
Republican Senator Bob Corker says Congress should address both tasks at once - government funding and the debt limit.
“We have an opportunity over the next short period of time to put some good policy in place: to pass a CR [continuing resolution to fund the government], to pass the debt ceiling, and move our country ahead towards being stronger. Let us put this behind us and move on as a nation," said Corker.
President Obama has been talking about the debt limit for weeks, and did so again in a speech Thursday.
“Even after Congress reopens your government, it is going to have to turn around very quickly and do something else: pay America’s bills," said President Obama.
Senator Corker urged swift negotiations between the president and congressional leaders of both parties on a large scale fiscal agreement - a so-called “grand bargain” - on spending, taxation and cost-saving reforms. The Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, is said to have pressed for a grand bargain when congressional leaders met with the president late Wednesday.
The grand bargain is not a new idea. This type of large-scale agreement was the goal of intensive negotiations two years ago that ultimately failed. Today, Democrats like Senator Charles Schumer do not rule out a grand bargain, but they demand a restoration of government funding before any negotiations begin.
“Republicans have this exactly backwards," said Schumer. "They say, ‘Let us talk, and then maybe we will open the government.’ They ought to say, “We will open up the government, and then we can talk.’”
Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart says a grand bargain would be a good thing, but he notes that Congress already is deadlocked on a much simpler task: funding the government.
“That [a grand bargain] would be a step in the right direction for the entire country. But right now, we cannot even get baby steps," said Diaz-Balart.
No one knows how long the federal shutdown will last. But lawmakers expect the House and Senate to hold rare Saturday and Sunday sessions, suggesting that any possible breakthrough is at least several days away.