By Philip Elliott
WASHINGTON: Even before a budget deadline arrives, leaders from both parties are blaming each other — and some Republicans are criticizing their own — for a government shutdown many are treating as inevitable.
The top Democrat in the House says Republicans are “legislative arsonists” who are using their opposition to a sweeping health care overhaul as an excuse to close government’s doors.
A leading tea party antagonist in the Senate counters that conservatives should use any tool available to stop the Affordable Care Act from taking hold. President Bill Clinton’s labor secretary says the GOP is willing “to risk the entire system of government to get your way,” while the House speaker who oversaw the last government shutdown urged fellow Republicans to remember “this is not a dictatorship.”
The unyielding political posturing on Sunday comes one week before Congress reaches an Oct. 1 deadline to dodge any interruptions in government services.
While work continues on a temporary spending bill, a potentially more devastating separate deadline looms a few weeks later when the government could run out of money to pay its bills.
“This is totally irresponsible, completely juvenile and, as I called it, legislative arson. It’s just destructive,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in an interview that aired Sunday.
The Republican-led House on Friday approved legislation designed to wipe out the 3-year-old health care law that President Barack Obama has vowed to preserve.
But the House’s move was more a political win than a measure likely to be implemented.
Across the Capitol, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would keep the health law intact despite Republicans’ attempts, in his words, “to take an entire law hostage simply to appease the tea party anarchists.”
One of those tea party agitators, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, showed little sign on Sunday that he cared about the uphill climb to make good on his pledge to derail the health care law over Obama’s guaranteed veto.
“I believe we should stand our ground,” said Cruz, who already was trying to blame Obama and his Democratic allies if the government shuts down.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Cruz’s efforts were destructive and self-serving as Cruz eyes a White House campaign.
“I cannot believe that they are going to throw a tantrum and throw the American people and our economic recovery under the bus,” she said.
“This is about running for president with Ted Cruz. This isn’t about meaningful statesmanship,” she added later.
The wrangling over the budget comes as lawmakers consider separate legislation that would let the United States avoid a first-ever default on its debt obligations.
House Republicans are planning legislation that would attach a one-year delay in the health care law in exchange for ability to increase the nation’s credit limit of $16.7 trillion.