The two congressmen who represent Shelby County in Washington couldn’t disagree more on the cause of the government shutdown and its coming intersection with the national debt ceiling.
“It’s the Republicans that are the problem,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen said Monday, Oct. 7, before leaving Memphis to catch a flight for Washington. “It’s folly what they are talking about, and they know that now. … They wanted a government shutdown – yippee-ki-yay.”
Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher’s Facebook page is keeping a day- count calendar of how long “Harry Reid (Democratic leader of the U.S. Senate) refuses to negotiate.”
“Hopefully, we can get a path forward that gets us a continuing resolution and deals with the debt limit so our country is dealing with responsibilities we’ve already obligated ourselves to,” Fincher said Monday afternoon as he, too, prepared to board a flight for the nation’s capital. “We have to have somebody in the White House that’s willing to negotiate. We are not going to raise the debt limit clean. It’s just not going to happen.”
Cohen called the standoff “a Constitutional crisis” that “tea party Republicans” are completely to blame for.
“I think they have this idea that if they can put the continuing resolution with the debt ceiling that maybe they can get something out of it,” he said. “They want something to save face. They’ve stumbled into this situation.”
Fincher says the Republican majority in the House has made concessions, starting with abandoning an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act and instead delaying implementation of it for another year.
“The Affordable Care Act passed the House, passed the Senate and was signed by the President and upheld by the Supreme Court,” Cohen said. “This method of trying to abolish a law through the budget process and continuing resolution is not part of what the Constitution says is how you pass a law.”
He said such a delay would never pass the Democrat-controlled Senate and, even if it did, would be vetoed by President Barack Obama
Fincher countered that Obama has changed the law since it became a law.
“How fair is it that there are now over 1,200 exemptions given to unions and business? How fair is it that the employer mandate part of this was delayed by the President himself?” Fincher asked. “And then the American people are the ones left holding the bag, and what we’ve said is just, ‘Give the American people the same exemption you gave big businesses, big unions and employers.’ From a fairness point of view, that seems to be the fair solution.”
Cohen said Democrats in Congress and the White House have agreed to use Republican numbers on the budget.
“All kind of programs are going to be hurt. That budget cuts $1.5 billion out of the National Institutes of Health,” Cohen said. “We’ve acquiesced to their numbers, and then that wasn’t enough. They wanted something else. It’s like they can’t accept yes as an answer.”
Fincher termed what is called the Ryan budget “a starting point as far as the numbers go,” a reference to U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
“It’s just trying to get past this trying to treat one group of people differently than the other,” Fincher said, referring to the Affordable Care Act exemptions. “I think it’s a mistake for us to start down this path.”
The path diverges at many points, including what kind of spending bills to pass.
“We’re passing clean spending bills,” Fincher said. “For some reason our colleagues in Washington on the other side of the aisle have tried to convince the American people that the CR (continuing resolution) way of budgeting is normal, and it is not. Single appropriation bills like what we are doing now is the normal process and give everybody a chance to vote on these measures without things attached to them.”
Cohen said Republican House Speaker John Boehner won’t let the continuing resolution come to a vote in which Cohen believes there are enough Republican crossover votes to pass the resolution.
“We believe the votes are there. If the votes aren’t there, so be it. … It would be an opportunity to show he is right,” Cohen said of Boehner. “To pay people and not allow them to work – pay people not to work – this is the height of folly.”
Cohen is negotiating the government shutdown in his own way. This week he will personally lead tours for several school groups from the district that are taking class trips to the Capitol. Members of his and other Congressional staffs are barred under terms of the shutdown from conducting such tours, and the regular Capitol tour guides are among those furloughed in the shutdown.