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Government Shutdown: Congress Has No Clue How To End It

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WASHINGTON -- If you weren't worried about how this government shutdown will get worked out, here's something that should help raise the anxiety: lawmakers have no idea what the endgame will be.

Some, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have some thoughts about the final resolution, but not how to get there.

"It's unfolding exactly as I told you it would three weeks ago, and it'll end by us not defunding Obamacare," McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill after his caucus met Tuesday. "Hopefully we can find something that would give some small satisfaction to our friends in the House that they could agree to."

But asked what that was, McCain admitted: "I don't know. But pressure is becoming very intense from people who are very dissatisfied with a government shutdown."

The House GOP conference decided Tuesday that it would try to force things by pushing three "suspension bills" -- which require two-thirds majorities to pass -- that would fund select parts of the government. Senate Democrats didn't wait around to see if they succeeded, adjourning after declaring the measures would not pass in the upper chamber.

"I think the House Republicans are looking for a way out of this because of the reaction of the American people, but they're also trying to preserve their position, and it's a very difficult situation for them," McCain said.

The possible length of the shutdown was opaque to lawmakers.

"There'll have to be a way through, but I don't think it will come for a while," said Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.).

Asked how the House should proceed to break the deadlock, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said simply, "I don't know. I can't speak for them."

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who was a House member last year, said he spent some time on the House floor Monday, but hadn't had much communication with his colleagues there since.

"I haven't gotten any sense today of where they are," Flake said. Asked if he felt the shutdown would be resolved in a big package over the debt ceiling, the Arizona Republican said, "I hope not. I hope we can resolve this by then."

Some House leaders, among them Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), would like to link the whole funding question to the debt ceiling, which the country is forecast to reach on Oct. 17.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters she was "disappointed" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) refused the House GOP's bid to create a conference committee to work out the short-term spending bill that targets Obamacare. She said at this point the matter might only be resolved by force from the White House.

"I think the president needs to bring people together on both sides of the aisle in both parties and not let them out of the room until there's an agreement," Collins said.

While the House pushed ahead with suspension bills that would help veterans, the District of Columbia and national parks, even some House members didn't think it would work, including Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who favors simply passing a funding bill that has no riders attacking Obamacare.

The suspension bill bid "takes a little pressure off, but it really doesn't solve our problem," Dent said. "I'm not sure that gets us any closer to a resolution."

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), another Republican who has broken with his leadership to call for a clean spending bill, said the problem with figuring out an end game is that the tea party members who have pushed the bid to link Obamacare to government funding don't actually have a plan.

Nunes called them lemmings after their penchant for following the commands of tea party Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

"So now we're letting these guys, this lemming crew, play out their hand," Nunes told reporters. "Now they're kind of playing with no cards in their hand, but they don't know that yet."

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