WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans failed to move forward Tuesday with a piecemeal approach to fund popular parts of the federal government to lessen the impact of the first government shutdown in 17 years.
House and Senate Republicans had offered short-term funding plans to keep open national parks, the Department of Veterans Affairs and other government services in the nation's capital. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky. said the piecemeal approach would "continue to move the ball down the field" towards finding an agreement to resume full government funding.
However, the GOP efforts failed to win the necessary support in the House of Representatives to advance to the Senate. The votes fell well short of the two-thirds threshold needed to suspend House rules.
The Senate had already warned that the plan would meet fate there as every previous attempt by the House to amend the stopgap funding bill. In that chamber, Democrats maintain the only way to end the shutdown is for the House to allow a vote on a stopgap measure to fund the government through mid-November that does not include legislation affecting President Obama's health care law.
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said she did not support funding the government in "bits and pieces."
"We're the entire United States of America. You keep the whole government going, that's what you're supposed to do," she said. "All they have to do in the House is let the House vote on the Senate (bill) and let the House work it's will."
The White House agreed. "These piecemeal efforts are not serious, and they are no way to run a government. If House Republicans are legitimately concerned about the impacts of a shutdown — which extend across government from our small businesses to women, children and seniors — they should do their job and pass a clean CR to reopen the government," said Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Democrats were not against debating some of the proposals that Republicans offered in the weeks leading up to the shutdown on the Affordable Care Act. He cited as an example a proposal to repeal a 2.3% tax on medical devices enacted to help pay for the law. However, Durbin said Democrats would not negotiate on the stopgap spending bill, or on a pending vote to increase the debt ceiling, the nation's borrowing limit.
"After the CR and the debt ceiling, I have been open to that," Durbin said, "Doing this with a gun to your head, as we've said over and over again, is not the appropriate way to bargain."
House Republicans huddled in private earlier Tuesday, and lawmakers showed no signs of losing cohesion on the first day of the shutdown. Republicans are bullish about the politics of a shutdown and they have reason to be, said David Wasserman, an analyst for the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
"Democrats have always believed a shutdown would finally make voters pay attention to how 'extreme' House Republicans are. So far there's not a ton of evidence that the game has changed," Wasserman said.
The 2014 national landscape still tilts in favor of House Republicans, where only one lawmaker, Rep. Gary Miller, R-Calif., sits in a district currently rated as a "toss-up" by Cook. Following a remapping of congressional districts in 2012, House Republicans represent fewer swing seats and are beholden to more conservative constituencies. There is also little institutional memory from the shutdown fights of nearly two decades ago.
Just 37 Republicans currently serving in Congress were present for the shutdowns during the Clinton administration, while 111 Republicans have been elected since President George W. Bush left office, Wasserman said.
In the last shutdown, there was also bipartisan interest in resolving the impasses. At the time, 79 Republicans represented districts President Clinton won. Today, just 17 Republicans represent districts carried by President Obama. "If anything, Obama has negative leverage with House Republicans," Wasserman said.
The polling today is in Democrats favor. A Quinnipiac national poll released Tuesday show American voters oppose 72%-22% Congress shutting down the government in their effort to block implementation of the law. Voters also choose a Democratic candidate over a Republican candidate 43%-34% in a generic ballot, the widest Democratic margin measured so far for the 2014 elections.
"Americans are certainly not in love with Obamacare, but they reject decisively the claim by congressional Republicans that it is so bad that it's worth closing down the government to stop it," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.