Liberals Break With Obama on ‘Clean’ CR

Grijalva said he would whip the Congressional Progressive Caucus to vote against the CR that maintains the sequester. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Grijalva said he would whip the Congressional Progressive Caucus to vote against the CR that maintains the sequester. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted September 20, 2013 at 4:01pm

In a break with the White House, liberals in the House are whipping against a “clean” continuing resolution that keeps the sequester spending cuts in place.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that the president would sign off on a “clean” short-term spending bill — one that maintains the current spending levels but is scrubbed of policy riders such as one defunding the 2010 health care law.

But that decision isn’t sitting well with members of the liberal wing of the House’s minority party, who wish the president was willing to play hardball to get rid of the spending cuts that are squeezing his agenda.

On Friday, Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairmen Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota said they would whip their nearly 75 members against any CR that maintains the sequester.

“I think the stance should have been, ‘This is the time to turn around the economy, and this is what we need to do, it’s reflected in my budget, it was reflected in the original Senate budget,’ the president could have said,” Grijalva said. “I wish [Obama] had taken a different position.”

Liberal appropriators complain that Obama has become complicit in keeping the sequester in place.

“I disagree with the White House and I have told the White House that I disagree,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said. “$988 billion makes us complicit in the sequestration. … I don’t believe Democrats should stand for that [and] I think the White House should not be complicit either.”

Rep. James P. Moran, D-Va., who like DeLauro is a senior appropriator and member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Thursday he was “surprised” at the president’s position and that he was “wrong” to take that stance.

The House passed its two-and-a-half-month CR on Friday at $986 billion while defunding the health care law. That’s $72 billion below the pre-sequester levels agreed to in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Conventional wisdom is the Senate will send back a bill next week that holds those funding levels in place, but removes the Obamacare defunding language.

In that scenario, Republican support will drop off and Democrats will be left to shore up the votes to keep the government afloat or else risk a shutdown.

Grijalva isn’t sure what Democrats will do, despite the fact that many influential members have said that a $988 billion CR is hardly “clean.”

Those members include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio. Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer has been the loudest voice of opposition, but indicated in a brief interview Friday that he was “telling members where I stand” rather than counting votes.

“I think a lot of members pretty much know the consequences of what sequestration is doing, and having that reaffirmed by some of the leadership, I think, is a good thing,” Grijalva said. “But I think a lot of minds are made up and the agony now is you have a clean bill and part of the stress is going to be, you don’t want any Democratic fingerprints on the shutdown.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus known for calling the original law creating the sequester a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich,” said he is struggling over how he would vote.

“If the healing of the mess we created depends on me saying ‘yes,’ then I will,” Cleaver said. “My druthers is we not go there … sequestration is anathema to my politics.”

Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, a chief deputy whip on the Democratic leadership team, said Friday he wasn’t ready to decide how he would vote on the CR, given that nobody really knows what proposal will come before the House.

But Welch, also a member of the Progressive Caucus who opposes the sequester, doesn’t blame the White House for its position.

“We’re working in a political environment that is driving us down to the lowest common denominator, and the country deserves a lot better than we’re giving it,” he said. “That statement from the president reflects his assessment of the reality of the Congress.”