The House and Senate spent the past few days involved in the legislative equivalent of hot potato, trying to be the ones not holding up a stopgap spending bill when government funding expires at midnight Monday.
As of late Sunday, the Senate appeared to have the upper hand, planning to return with just enough time Monday afternoon to shoot down the latest House Republican proposals and send a bill back to the lower chamber, hoping Republicans will have no choice but to pass the Senate bill or be blamed for a shutdown.
Indeed, the Senate didn’t bother to convene Sunday, leaving House Republicans to stage a rally on the steps outside the chamber to accuse Democrats of stalling to try to force Republicans into capitulating.
“The only evidence you need, folks, is the fact that they’re not here,” said Rep. Tim Griffin, Arkansas Republican, joining his colleagues on the steps in protest. “This is the old football strategy — when you get to where you want to be in a football game, you run out the clock.”
Both sides say they don’t want a shutdown and accuse the other of trying to manufacture one.
Time is short, though. Funding for basic government operations expires at midnight Monday, and unless Congress and President Obama agree on a bill to extend money into the next fiscal year, the government will shut down soon afterward.
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, kept quiet Sunday, and Mr. Obama, who went golfing as the House was working Saturday, also stayed quiet at the White House.
But other Democrats filled the void, vowing to hold firm against Republican demands.
“We are on the eve of a shutdown, and there is only one way to prevent it: for the House to pass a clean continuing resolution,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Sunday.
He accused House Republicans of worrying more about avoiding blame than trying to keep the government open.
Early Sunday, House Republicans powered three proposals through their chamber, with varying degrees of Democratic support, and sent them to the Senate.
Two of the proposals fund the government through Dec. 15. One of them also repeals an Obamacare medical device tax affecting equipment such as wheelchairs and oxygen tanks. The other would impose a one-year halt on the Affordable Care Act.
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The final Republican proposal is a guarantee that military troops would continue receiving paychecks in the event of a government shutdown.
Senate Democrats on Friday passed a bill with no strings on Obamacare, then adjourned until Monday afternoon.
Democrats signaled Sunday that they likely would accept the House bill that continues to pay troops in the event of a shutdown but would reject the other two bills.
The parliamentary situation is complex, but one option for Senate Democrats is to wait until late Monday and move to table both House proposals. If the Democrats, as expected, can muster at least 51 votes to kill the proposals, the original bill will go back to the House just hours before the midnight deadline.
House Republicans then would have to scramble to pass yet another proposal.
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, the third-ranking House Republican, told “Fox News Sunday” that other ideas were in the works and vowed that the government would not shut down — but he gave no specifics.
Democrats eagerly fundraised off the showdown, which coincides with a major quarterly fundraising deadline. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee begged supporters to pony up for their Obamacare Rapid Response Fund. Mr. Obama’s own campaign arm, Organizing for America, pleaded for money it said it would use to shift the focus from Obamacare to immigration.
Mr. Reid has said he will not accept any conditions on the spending bills, while House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, insists on having strings attached.
The Republican strategy relies on unity, however, and that is beginning to fray.
Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, released a statement rejecting GOP insistence that Obamacare be tied to the spending bill.
“I voted against Obamacare and have repeatedly voted to repeal, reform, and replace it, but I disagree with the strategy of linking Obamacare with the continuing functioning of government — a strategy that cannot possibly work,” she said.
She said she wanted all sides to pass a short-term spending bill to carry the government beyond the midnight Monday deadline, and then asked Mr. Obama to meet with her and a small group of Senate Republicans who had been trying to work out a long-term debt deal.
With a shutdown looming, avoiding blame has become a key goal in the strategies of both Democrats and Republicans, with memories of the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns still vivid in many lawmakers’ minds.
In those instances, congressional Republicans shut down the government in their battle over spending with President Clinton. They suffered for it at the polls, losing seats in two successive congressional elections.