CAPITOL HILL— Some conservative Republican lawmakers are still demanding that large parts of the U.S. government remain shut down indefinitely unless Democrats agree to delay implementing the president’s signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act. There does, however, appear to be progress towards a deal to raise the debt ceiling and avert a potential default next week. Both sides have a long way to go to resolve differences.
Many in Washington breathed a sigh of relief on word that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, along with members of Congress from both parties and chambers, met at the White House during the second week of a partial government shutdown.
Congressional leaders and the White House say they are trying to craft a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt limit so the United States will be able to pay its bills past October 17, when funds are expected to run out. House Speaker John Boehner and some other Republicans say they want the president to sit down with them and discuss substantial spending cuts to social programs Democrats support.
“And I would hope that the president would look as this as an opportunity and a good faith effort on our part to move halfway, halfway to what he has demanded in order to have these conversations begin," said Boehner.
But ahead of an agreement with the president, some Republicans are signaling that they want to keep up the fight that triggered the shutdown - Republicans linking any bill to fund the government to measures they support to derail the health care law, often called “Obamacare.” Republican Congressman Raul Labrador has been leading the fight on the House side.
“This is our goal right now, to continue the fight on Obamacare. And the best way for us to do that is to separate the two issues at this time. Because if not, when they get conflated, then I think people are going to start caving on both issues," said Labrador.
On the Senate side, Republican Ted Cruz has thrust himself into the limelight. He spoke Friday to an enthusiastic gathering of social conservatives in Washington, where he was also heckled by some progressive activists.
“Listen, none of us know what is going to happen on this Obamacare fight right now. In my view, the House of Representatives needs to keep doing what it has been doing, which is standing strong," said Cruz.
Analysts say a core group of some 30 to 40 conservative Tea Party Republicans in the House insist on linking a normally routine measure to fund the government to their campaign against the health care law. They say the measure is too intrusive and will hurt the U.S. economy. Ron Fournier of National Journal says the Republicans’ brinksmanship is unprecedented.
There has not been a time when we have had a minority party threaten to undermine the nation’s credit and to bring about economic calamity on the country if they don’t get their way on a bill that they lost on a couple of years ago," said Fournier.
House Democrats, who are in the minority and cannot bring bills to the floor for a vote, have been frustrated. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi:
“It is really hard to negotiate with people who are still negotiating among themselves," said Pelosi.
But conservative Republicans point out that they are carrying out the wishes of their constituents in their districts. The lawmakers also say they see the current budget showdown as the best way to win concessions from Democrats to rein in spending and the health care law they have always opposed.
Recent opinion polls show that a majority of Americans are blaming Republicans for the government shutdown. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday shows that 53 percent of those surveyed blame Republicans, while 31 percent blame President Obama. Just 24 percent of those polled say they have a favorable view of the Republican Party, the lowest number in the poll’s history.