With the clock ticking to a March 4 government shutdown, you might imagine the Capitol would be buzzing with lawmakers seeking to cut deals, make impassioned speeches and do everything they could to strike a deal on spending.
You’d be wrong.
House lawmakers stayed until 4:41 a.m. Saturday to finish up a spending bill to keep the government open, and sent it over to the Senate — only to be met with an empty chamber. Senators had closed up shop two days before and went home for a 10-day break to honor George Washington’s birthday.
“We will do our work, but where is the Senate? They’re on vacation,” said Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Montana Republican and member of the House Appropriations Committee who ran part of the floor debate over cutting spending for the new health care law. “Here we are knocking up against a March 4 deadline and they’re missing the deadline again.”
Indeed, the corridors of the Capitol have been empty this entire week, with both the House and Senate adjourned, leaving their leaders to try negotiations through press releases, Twitter messages and telephone conference calls.
“Less than 90 days into the job, House Republicans seem more interested in shutting down the government than showing the leadership necessary create jobs and help the economy recover,” Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said in a press release Thursday, responding to Republicans’ press releases from the day before.
Meanwhile, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, was in Florida this week doing fundraising. The speaker also found time to hit the golf course.
Other lawmakers, including many freshman, were at home in their districts, holding town hall gatherings and meeting with constituents.
A message left with Senate Democratic leaders’ office seeking comment on the schedule wasn’t returned, but a Senate Republican leadership aide said they are confident a shutdown will be avoided and Congress will pass a “continuing resolution,” or “CR,” in time.
“Speaker Boehner has already said that the House will pass a short-term CR, and this will give Harry Reid time to find a solution to reduce spending and keep the government operational,” the aide said.
Staffers are doing some negotiating this week, though there is not yet a deal to bridge the gap between House Republicans’ bill, which would cut $61 billion from 2010 spending levels, and Senate Democrats, who want to extend 2010 spending levels into April and said then they’ll be willing to negotiate some cuts.
On Thursday, top Democratic lawmakers released reports they said document how the cuts will hurt the poor and leave the federal government unable to fulfill basic functions such as immigration enforcement.