Federal Government Faces 3rd Shutdown Threat This Year

Dec 15, 2011
Originally published on December 15, 2011 3:55 am



A different sequel is playing out in Washington, D.C. Once again, the federal government is threatened with a shutdown. Funding to keep it going runs out tomorrow at midnight. A trillion-dollar omnibus spending bill would keep federal agencies open another nine months. What's holding that up is a bitter fight between Republicans and Democrats over extending a payroll tax break. So overnight, Republicans in the House introduced their own trillion-dollar spending bill, aimed at pressuring Democrats to go along with the GOP on both measures. NPR's David Welna has more on this game of chicken.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: To the Democrats who run the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell could not have made himself more clear about wanting fast action on the payroll tax-cut extension bill that House Republicans muscled through their chamber on Tuesday evening.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Pick up the House bill, pass it right here in the Senate, and send it to the president for a signature without theatrics and without delay.

WELNA: But that was McConnell speaking two days ago. Yesterday morning, when Senate Democrats tried bringing up that House bill - a measure they called dead on arrival because of the many provisions in it they found unacceptable - McConnell reversed himself and refused to let the bill come up. Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill was outraged.


SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL: The bill was passed in the House. Why aren't we voting? Why is the Republican Party blocking its own bill?

WELNA: Clearly, Republicans had settled on a new endgame. If the House were to pass the big omnibus spending bill, its members could go home for the holidays. That would leave Senate Democrats with a bad choice: They could either pass the House Republicans' payroll tax-cut bill, or be blamed for letting the typical workers' taxes go up a thousand dollars next year. Again, Senate GOP leader McConnell.


MCCONNELL: So let's deal first with the deadline that happens this Friday. Fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year, and then turn immediately to the payroll tax extension that expires later in January.

WELNA: Nothing doing, shot back Majority Leader Harry Reid. He said things could only move forward by first working out a compromise to extend the payroll tax cut. Reid accused Republicans of actually wanting to see the government shut down.


SEN. HARRY REID: They've had experience doing this. The presumptive Republican nominee, Newt Gingrich, tried that once, and it didn't work so well. So I don't think it's going to work very well again. Everyone knows why the government is going to shut down - if, in fact, it does.

WELNA: Reid has refused to let Democrats to sign off on the omnibus spending bill conference report, saying some differences have yet to be resolved. That's kept the House from voting on it, and also from leaving town. House Speaker John Boehner told reporters yesterday the time has come to act on the spending bill.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER: So I'm hopeful that the president and Senator Reid will allow the appropriators to sign the conference report, and allow that bill to come to a vote in the House and the Senate to keep our government open.

WELNA: Reid, for his part, said Congress should pass a stop-gap spending bill to keep the government open while the payroll tax-cut extension gets sorted out.


REID: Republicans should give Congress a few more days to finish its job rather than rushing home for vacation.

WELNA: There are signs the impasse may be over soon. Jon Kyl, the Senate's number-two Republican, says it's time to forge a compromise.


SEN. JON KYL: Leader Reid needs to go over and talk to Speaker Boehner, and the two of them figure out what can pass the House and the Senate. That's the bottom line. And the sooner that conversation starts, the better.

WELNA: Senate Democratic aides, meanwhile, say their side may be willing to drop its demand that payroll tax cuts be paid for with the surtax on millionaires. Republicans called that good news and last night, they did not object when Reid once again called up the House payroll tax-cut bill for a vote, possibly later today.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.