One of the top Democrats in the House said Friday that his party should be willing to shut down the government this fall unless the spending cuts brought on by sequestration are ended.
Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), the co-chair of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, said that he hadn’t blithely come to the conclusion that this type of political standoff was necessary. Rather, it was talks with victims of the spending cuts and a new Congressional Budget Office study showing that up to 1.6 million jobs would be at risk next year if sequestration continued that convinced him a government shutdown threat was worth it.
“I think the president should draw that line in the sand,” Andrews told The Huffington Post in an interview. “I think it would create clarity, that our side wants to have a no-drama, sensible economic policy and that they want drama. So let’s have the fight.”
“Here is my instinctive feeling about this,” he said. “Republicans generally win fights over taxes and spending, that’s their turf. We win fights about jobs. So how this fight is framed will affect the outcome.”
"I’m not eager to do it. There is no honor in shutting the government down," Andrews said. "But I would like to make that case strongly and see how far we can go.”
It's fairly bold for a member of the president's own party to advocate shutting down the government. It also creates a bit of an awkward situation, as Democrats attack Republicans for threatening a shutdown in their quest to defund the president’s health care law.
Andrews stressed that he was speaking on his own behalf and not drawing on conversations he has had with members of the administration.
But frustration with the spending cuts, and worries that they will linger beyond this fiscal year, is clearly a motivating force as Democrats enter the major budget battles of this fall. Andrews called the need to continue funding the government the “next have-to” event on the political calendar and the logical time to make the conversation “about sequestration and the very real impact it is having across the country.”
On Friday morning, the Washington Post reported that White House officials too were “discussing a potential strategy” in which the president “might refuse to sign a new funding measure that did not roll back the sequester.”
An administration official dismissed that report and general talk of a government shutdown as premature, noting that a new government funding agreement won't be needed for more than two months. But that official still warned House Republicans that if they pushed appropriations bills that went “beyond the sequester,” they would be met with “a guaranteed veto” from the president.
“We will see where discussions get us in the next few weeks before any decisions are made about the best way to solve the panoply of fiscal issues,” the official said.
Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to the president, echoed those points in an email statement to The Huffington Post.
“Right now, the House Republicans continue to move appropriations bills that gut middle class priorities," he said. "These are bills the President will not sign, because they will hurt the economy, job growth and the middle class."
House Republicans, so far, seem likely to call the White House’s bluff, passing appropriations bills that dramatically cut domestic programs.
“His priorities are going nowhere,” Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said bluntly.
But the GOP doesn’t want to shoulder the blame should a standoff with the president result in a government shutdown. And in response to the Washington Post story, the office of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sent out several emails to reporters pointing out that it was the administration, not Republicans, who was reportedly contemplating such an end game.