Is Brinksmanship Now Our Standard Form of Government?

September 22, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Just eight days remain before the federal government will shut down if Congress fails to pass a new budget. NY Times Congressional correspondent Jeremy Peters explores the many rifts that make compromise seem nearly impossible. Peters said one thing he has learned is to “stop prognosticating about what Congress will do.”

HARI SREENIVASAN: The federal government will shut down 8 days from now unless Congress passes a new budget.  But today, neither party was giving an inch. Instead, leading Democrats and republicans used the networks’Sunday morning talk shows to attack one another.

Appearing on CNN’s state of the union program, Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi ridiculed House Republican legislators for passing a bill Friday that tied passage of the new budget to the defunding of the affordable care act.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I call them legislative arsonists. They’re there to burn down what we should be building up in terms of investments and education and scientific research and all that it is that makes our country great and competitive. The anti-government ideology is making a mess of what goes on in Congress now.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Texas Republican Ted Cruz said the president and Senate Democrats would be responsible for any government shutdown — not the GOP. He called on Senate Republicans to line up in support of the House bill eliminating funding for the president’s healthcare plan. If they do, he proposed a different way to keep the government running.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS : I think the House should hold its ground and begin passing smaller continuing resolutions one department at a time. It should start with a continuing resolution focused on the military. Let’s see if Harry Reid is willing to shut down the military just because he wants to force Obama care on the American people.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What comes next? To walk us through what’s comes next, we are joined now from Washington by Jeremy Peters. He is a congressional reporter for the New York Times.

So Jeremy, now the Senate has it in his hands. What happens tomorrow?

JEREMY PETERS: Well, tomorrow is going to be like a lot of the other days this week.

There are going to be a number of procedural steps that the Senate has to go through. It’s going to be a pretty dull week in terms of voting. The first major vote that you’re likely to see happen is going to be a week from today, next Sunday, when the Senate votes on a version of the budget bill that the House passed Friday. Now, what Harry Reid is expected to do is strip out a provision from that bill that says that the government will not fund Obamacare. So what the senate bill will actually have is funding for Obamacare. Then the House votes on that next week and– I’m sorry, the Senate votes on that next week ask then it goes back to the House.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Ok so what are the chances of an actual shut down here?

JEREMY PETERS: I’ve learned to stop prognosticating what Congress does. I think if there’s one thing I’ve learned in covering this institution is that the 535 men and women who inhabit the Capitol are incredibly unpredictable and they’ve proven to defy predictions from people who are much, much wiser than I am. But, you know, it’s kind of hard to see a way that there is compromise, because both sides are so dug in and you’re in this kind of unusual scenario where Republicans are – conservative Republicans are arguing with one another about the feasibility of passing a budget that doesn’t include Obamacare.

You have very conservative Republicans like Tom Coburn who are basically saying, look, this is not going to happen. We don’t have the votes to do this. And Republicans in the House who are saying, no, that’s not good enough. And it’s hard to see a way forward when both sides are screaming at each other no, no, no.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So where does this put the leader of the House John Boehner?

JEREMY PETERS: Well John Boehner is going to have to decide whether or not to put on the floor a version of the budget that includes funding for Obamacare. That’s what the Senate will send him. But a bill like that obviously does not have the support of his Republican conference. The speaker has put himself in tricky situations like this before where he’s enraged the right by putting a bill on the floor that ultimately passes, that doesn’t have their support, because what happens is the bill ends up passing with democratic support and every time he does that, there are calls for his ouster from the right. So what John Boehner does, ultimately, I think will determine how this situation is resolved.

HARI SREENIVASAN: is there a way out of it?

JEREMY PETERS: Well, you know, the government always seems to keep running and there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel in situations like these. I think what happens is it’s a very bumpy ride, but ultimately the government will be funded. How that looks at the end of this week, two-week fight we have ahead of us, who knows.

HARI SREENIVASAN: You know, a question I have, as you talk to all these different members, is there a sense of catastrophe fatigue, or do they relish this brinksmanship?

JEREMY PETERS: Well you know, one of the most interesting things that’s happened here is the tea party itself has started to split. And this is a group of legislators who were elected to Congress in 2010 basically saying, no, we’re not going to compromise on anything. And that led to this kind of – it helped exacerbate this governing by crisis, by deadline phenomenon that we’ve been seeing for the last few years and I think you raise a very good question because you have a lot of Republicans saying, you know, as much as we hate Obamacare and as much as we would like to not see it funded, it’s impossible. The votes are not there. Republicans do not control both Houses of Congress, and even if they did, they would still have to override a president’s veto, and that’s not going to happen.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay, Jeremy Peters from the New York Times, thank you so much.