WASHINGTON -- Congressional Democrats emerged emboldened Monday night from the breakdown in efforts to avert a government shutdown, confident that President Barack Obama had the political upper hand and would stand firm in future negotiations.
Just outside the House floor, many of those members lingered leisurely, even as the chamber took several largely party-line votes to fund the government while delaying aspects of Obamacare.
This was pure theater, they argued. And regardless of how Republicans arranged the stage, the ending wouldn’t change.
“I don’t blame the president for one second," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told The Huffington Post. "I wouldn’t negotiate this stuff either.”
Minutes earlier, the House had approved a bill that would delay Obamacare’s individual mandate, in addition to ending the employer contribution for federal employee health care benefits. Cummings had strolled out from that vote and parked himself at a wooden table nearby. As he patiently scrolled through a copy of The New York Times, only a handful of reporters bothered him. Most turned their attention to House Republicans leaving the floor.
“Nobody talks about the fact that this is an effort to take away something that has already been granted,” Cummings proclaimed, expressing dismay that those members somehow thought the president would reel back the Affordable Care Act. “It is something that we actually voted for.”
The “we” was said with a touch of emphasis. Cummings knows full well that in negotiations past, Obama has been keen to cut a deal with congressional Republicans to avert a crisis. But this time was different, Cummings insisted, in large because the president’s own party would revolt against any 11th-hour acquiescence.
“I think the president knows that Democrats are tired," Cummings said. "They are tired of giving and not receiving and I think they want to make sure that our voters see consequences of an election. I think the president will wait. And the reason I think he will out-wait them is not necessarily because of him, but because of the Democrats in the House and the Senate.”
Just how long that wait will be is a major question, certainly for those directly affected by a shutdown. As the midnight deadline passed, Democrats showed no sign of moving off their line, confident that Republicans would eventually understand how poor a hand they held.
Would Democrats accept any small change to Obamacare if it meant getting out from under a shutdown, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was asked.
“No,” she replied.
Pelosi’s top deputy, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), said his party had already compromised.
“It was on the spending levels,” Clyburn said. “$1.058 trillion is what we wanted [in a spending bill]. They sent us back $988 billion. And the president agreed to that. And we over here were not in agreement with that. Democrats were not in agreement with that. And so that is what you compromise on. You don’t compromise on your landmark legislation, which has absolutely nothing to do with keeping the government open. You are keeping the government running with your appropriations.”
Clyburn suspected that a short-term continuing resolution -- something that lasted a matter of days -- would be agreed to by the parties, in order to buy some negotiating time. The turn of midnight proved him wrong.
Down the hall sat Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who, despite his playful demeanor, was far more cynical about the prospects of an agreement.
“I don’t know how they succumb,” Cohen said of House Republicans. “At some point, you think they have to give in. But how can they give in? Because to give in is to say we were jackals, we were fools, we were wrong. And so we are giving in. The government is more important. They can’t do that. They really have got themselves in a box where if they surrender they have got so much stuff all over the place. There aren’t enough tissues to clean it up.”
Does that mean a shutdown in perpetuity? No, said Cohen. But it was “going to be a long time” before a resolution presents itself.
Cummings had a similar view. The whole ordeal, he warned, could “go on for a while, at least a week,” he said.
“First of all, I don’t think the president is going to give in, and I think it is going to take them that long to come around," Cummings said. "I think they’ve got to feel some pressure. And I think once they begin to feel the pressure and they truly begin to feel that it might affect them in the next election -– I don’t think they’ve gotten it yet, they are getting there, but they are not there yet -– but once they begin to feel that, then I think they will fold."