Himes, other Dems zero in on GOP 'fringe' if government shuts down
Members of Connecticut's all-Democratic congressional delegation say they will blame tea party-backed Republicans in the House of Representatives if the federal government shuts down on Oct. 1 or if the U.S. government defaults later in the year because Congress failed to raise the debt ceiling.
Implicit in some of their comments was a degree of sympathy for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, whom they see as a veteran legislator willing to find compromises among competing viewpoints in order to achieve results. They say Boehner and other Republican leaders are inordinately swayed by a minority of the 233 Republican House members who have won tea party support.
No issue fires up the tea party caucus like the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare -- the new federal health insurance program that kicks in Oct. 1.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., blamed "a small minority of fringe extremist ideologues -- most in the House but some in the Senate -- who have brought their brand of nihilist obstructionism to a new height. Their position is that no programs will be funded unless some programs like Obamacare are defunded."
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, said the "dead-enders" trying to kill Obamacare want to tie repeal legislation to a spending bill -- a continuing resolution -- that would maintain federal funding at current levels in the new 2014 fiscal year that also starts Oct. 1.
They see Oct. 1 as their "last opportunity to repeal Obamacare," Himes said, "because they understand that on that date, millions of Americans who have not had health insurance will get health insurance (and) public perceptions about Obamacare are going to change."
The House has voted 41 times, all to no effect, to repeal, defund or delay Obamacare since the program was enacted in 2010.
"The dead-enders are going to maintain their fantasies of repealing Obamacare," Himes said. "But, of course, in the real world, there's no way they are going to repeal Obamacare."
Those who have said they are going to accept nothing other than repeal of Obamacare include 40 to 50 members of the House, plus U.S. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has referred to some of those lawmakers as "wacko birds."
The debt ceiling is a whole different matter, according to Himes.
An Oct. 1 government shutdown "would be unpleasant, but fiddling with the debt ceiling would be Armageddon. It could be catastrophic," he said.
The current debt limit of $16.7 trillion is expected to be reached sometime between mid-October and Thanksgiving. Without new borrowing authority, the federal government would be unable to pay its bills. Congress faced the same debt ceiling fight in 2011, and as a result credit-rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded its assessment of U.S. creditworthiness.
This time around, White House spokesman Jay Carney has said the Obama administration "will not negotiate with Republicans in Congress over Congress' responsibility to pay the bills that Congress has racked up. Period."
Himes expressed optimism that Boehner will find a way to avoid both the Oct. 1 shutdown and a debt default. Meanwhile, House Republican leaders canceled a weeklong recess that was set to start Sept. 23.
Blumenthal also said he was hopeful that Congress will approve a continuing resolution to avoid an Oct. 1 shutdown and, later, avoid a debt default. "I'm optimistic, because eventually these extremists will be either shamed or embarrassed or politically persuaded that they are doing harm to their own cause," he said.
He said Boehner appeared to be seeking some consensus among House Republicans and Democrats to approve a continuing resolution and avoid a shutdown. That kind of House action could provide momentum for the Senate to move legislation, he said.
"Syria is beyond our control," Blumenthal said. "But the debt ceiling and budget issues are very much within our clear capacity to address. I think in some sense the bipartisan effort in Congress to deal with Syria might cast some light on the budget and the debt ceiling. Our economic recovery is fragile, as it was in 2011, when the debt ceiling battle hurt us. There are lessons to be learned from that."
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a former three-term member of the House, said the current House is "the most dysfunctional in U.S. history. It's an absolute circus. You have group of 30-50 tea party-backed Republicans who want to burn government to the ground and they have no interest in compromise."
Other Connecticut lawmakers also were scathing in comments about House Republicans.
U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5, said: "A number of congressional Republicans seem inexplicably fixated on defunding the Affordable Care Act. People are understandably frustrated by this continuing dysfunction and gridlock. We need to sit down, pass a common-sense budget, and start passing some real jobs bills."
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3: "Unfortunately, any real progress to fund the government at responsible levels has been stymied by a right-wing minority of the Republican Party. Until Speaker Boehner stands up to this faction, we are likely to keep reliving this pattern of irresponsibility over and over again. In the next few weeks, our paralysis will come to a head as we try to agree on a continuing resolution and then the debt ceiling."
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2: "Until the Republican leadership in the House can convince their conference to move forward in a bipartisan manner, these budget battles will continue."