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Sequester Emerges Anew In Senate Shutdown Debate

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), left, seen here speaking with Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) in an elevator Sunday, says that undoing the sequester cuts is "one of the sticking points" in budget talks. Congress is struggling to find a solution to end the government shutdown, now in its thirteenth day.
Andrew Burton
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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), left, seen here speaking with Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) in an elevator Sunday, says that undoing the sequester cuts is "one of the sticking points" in budget talks. Congress is struggling to find a solution to end the government shutdown, now in its thirteenth day.

The federal government shutdown is in its 13th day, with little sign of a budget deal that could win the approval of both houses of Congress, as well as the White House. The debate now includes efforts to avoid a default if the government's debt limit isn't raised by Thursday.

Sunday afternoon, the White House reiterated its position after a phone call with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, saying that she and President Obama agree on the need for "a clean [continuing resolution] and a one-year clean debt limit increase that would prevent a first-ever default of our nation's credit."

The reference to "clean" legislation stems from House Republicans' efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act, the health care system known as Obamacare.

But there were signs Sunday that while health care may have been the key issue in the House debate, in the Senate, which is now leading the discussion, a solution may hinge on the next round of sequestration cuts that take effect in January.

"[Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell and Republicans want to continue current spending at $986.7 billion and leave untouched the new round of cuts in January, commonly known as sequester, that would reduce the amount to $967 billion," the AP reports. "Democrats want to figure out a way to undo the reductions, plus a long-term extension of the debt limit increase and a short-term spending bill to reopen the government."

Here's a roundup of what else people are saying about the state of affairs:

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., discussed undoing the sequester cuts — "one of the sticking points," he said — on CBS's Face the Nation:

"The dispute has been how to undo sequester. Republicans want to do it with entitlement cuts, in other words, take entitlement cuts and then put that money into undoing at least part of the sequester. Democrats want to do it with a mix of mandatory cuts, some entitlements, and revenues.

"And so how do you overcome that dilemma? We're not going to overcome it in the next day or two. But if we were to open up the government for a period of time that concluded before the sequester took place — which is Jan. 15 — we could have a whole bunch of discussions.

"And I am more optimistic than most we could come to an agreement. That was one place where the House Republicans and the president were not, you know, at total loggerheads."

On the same program, host Bob Schieffer asked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., how "a freshman senator, less than a year in office, Ted Cruz, was able to lead your party into what some in your party are calling a box canyon here? How did this happen?"

"There was already fertile ground because of those many members of the House who were elected in 2010 on the promise that they would repeal and replace Obamacare," McCain said said.

"And by the way, there were many of us who fought it back to 2009. We still want it changed. But to say that we were going to defund it just after the 2012 elections — every speech I gave all over the country were repeal and replace "Obamacare." Well, we lost. So we still can fight provisions of it. And the irony of all this is the rollout is a fiasco. That should be what's on the front page of newspapers across America."

McCain also criticized the president, saying that Obama hadn't been active enough in looking for solutions to get around the impasse.

"I hope the president will become engaged," McCain said. "Maybe we need to get — maybe we need to get Joe Biden out of the witness protection program," he said, referring to the vice president's ability to broker deals in Congress.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told host Candy Crowley on CNN's State of the Union: that she believes a deal will come before Thursday's deadline:

"I think you see the fact that Senator Reid, Senator McConnell are now talking and we've gotten to a stage where some of the demands that we've heard from House Republicans who put ideological things on the budget and shut the government down if they didn't defund Obamacare, if they didn't get something on on birth control, that's behind us now."

Later, she added,

"We have situations now where a plane manufacturer in Duluth, Minn., can't get their inventory out of a warehouse to be able to try to sell it overseas, where they do exports all the time, because the Transportation Department shut down and they can't get approvals. We have fishermen off Alaska that are going to lose their market on crab to Russia. It's an unbelievable thing. We have to get this government open again."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tells George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week that any deal should start in the House.

"Here's what I'm worried about: a deal coming out of the Senate that a majority of Republicans can't vote for in the House. That really does compromise Speaker Boehner's leadership. And after all this mess is over, do we really want to compromise John Boehner as leader of the House? I don't think so.

"So I'm not going to vote for any plan that I don't think can get a majority of Republicans in the House — understanding that defunding Obamacare and delaying it for a year is not a realistic possibility now."

Later, Graham said:

"We're in a free-fall as Republicans, but Democrats are not far behind. And after listening to all of us talk now, I probably understand why 60 percent of Americans want to vote all incumbents out.

"To my colleagues in the House on both sides, and to my friends in the Senate: we are ruining both institutions."

How federal judges view the shutdown — particularly after a sequester that took a toll on the judiciary — is the topic of a Politico report today.

Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf, who writes a blog (called Hercules and the Umpire) apart from his bench duties in Nebraska, wrote last week that "It is time to tell Congress to go to hell. It's the right thing to do."

"Court budgets have essentially been slashed to the bone, with us losing nationwide thousands of judicial employees performing very important tasks...We're being told to furlough where we're already cut to the bone," Judge Richard Roberts, whose district court is near the Capitol, tells Politico.

The website also notes that Judge Amy Berman Jackson rebuffed an attempt to keep a House-related court case moving, despite the shutdown. Here's how she responded to House lawyers who sought to keep their inquiry into Operation Fast and Furious moving along:

"While the vast majority of litigants who now must endure a delay in the progress of their matters do so due to circumstances beyond their control, that cannot be said of the House of Representatives, which has played a role in the shutdown that prompted the stay motion," Jackson wrote.

And earlier today on NPR's Weekend Edition, you could hear a report on Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, who hasn't spared the chamber from a bit of scolding during the shutdown.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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