Worst Congress in History Still Trying to Decide Whether to End Shutdown and Avoid Default

You can come up with a million ways to to make the situation in Congress seem more subtle than this, but in every meaningful sense, we're in the exact same place today as we were last week and the week before and the week before that: Thanks to Republican hostage-taking, the most God-awful Congress in American history is still trying to figure out whether or not it wants to reopen government and whether or not it wants force a catastrophic default.

Reporters who cover the ins and outs of Congressional "deliberations" tell us that the focus has moved to the Senate where leaders are apparently frantically hitting refresh on finance.yahoo.com:

What started as a mad dash to strike a deal to lift the federal debt limit slowed to a crawl over the weekend as stalemated Senate leaders waited nervously to see whether financial markets would plunge Monday morning and drive the other side toward compromise.

But the fact remains that if Republicans would simply agree to take the shutdown and threat of default off the table, none of this would be happening. The Democratic position is the same that it's been all along: Congress should raise the debt limit to avoid default and it should reopen government to allow budget negotiations to continue. According to the New York Times, this represents a change in the position, however:

With a possible default on government obligations just days away, Senate Democratic leaders — believing they have a political advantage in the continuing fiscal impasse — refused Sunday to sign on to any deal that reopens the government but locks in budget cuts for next year. [...] The core of the dispute is about spending, and how long a stopgap measure that would reopen the government should last. Democrats want the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration to last only through mid-November; Republicans want them to last as long as possible.

The thing is, this is exactly where the Senate has been all along. They've already passed legislation that would keep the government open through mid-November, so saying they want to stick to that timeframe isn't moving the goalposts. Given that even the House's defund Obamacare bill only funded government through mid-December, the differences here really shouldn't be all that big—unless Republicans are trying to use the leverage of a shutdown threat to lock in sequester spending cuts.

Of course, debating how long a temporary funding bill should last is a pretty strange thing to be debating when the government has already been shut down for two weeks and we're staring at the potential for default. But let us not forget this simple fact: The Senate has already passed a clean bill reopening government; it is now sitting in the House of Representatives, collecting dust. They could vote on it today and government would reopen in five minutes, but House Speaker John Boehner refuses to bring it up. And last week, the Senate tried to vote on raising the debt ceiling to end the threat of a government default, but Senate Republicans used the filibuster to block that vote from coming up.

Democrats have one demand and one demand only: That in order to reopen the government and avoid default, Congress should reopen government and avoid default. Republicans, meanwhile, still can't decide what should be in their ransom note, and how hard they should fight for it. And time is running out.

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