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November 28, 2014

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Both sides dug in — for now — over budget impasse

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., left, and House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., rear center, look on as Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 in Washington. Congress was unable to reach a midnight deadline to keep the government funded, triggering the first government shutdown in more than 17 years.

Government Shutdown

Resa Mestel, of New York, reacts after finding the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, N.C.,   closed due to the government shutdown Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. In the wake of a partial shutdown of the U.S. government, the National Park Service began closing down parks and other facilities until federal funding is restored. Launch slideshow »

As the federal government slept, senators convened this morning to swiftly kill the latest counter-proposal from the House of Representatives to now restore funding to the federal government.

Senators voted 54-46 against appointing a conference committee — essentially a band of negotiators from both the Senate and House — to hash out differences on what would be either a six- or ten-week continuing resolution to fund the federal government.

But the differences between the two houses of Congress, and the two parties that lead them, aren’t about timing — they are exclusively focused on Obamacare.

The House of Representatives is determined to take a piece out of Obamacare in exchange for keeping the federal government’s funding flowing.

Over the course of the past few days, their bargaining position has evolved from demanding a full defunding of Obamacare, to demanding a one-year delay for implementing all of Obamacare, to demanding a one-year delay of the individual mandate requiring people to buy health insurance that kicks in Jan. 1. (The exchanges from which individuals will purchase their health insurance plans opened today.)

But the Senate has remained adamant that it will not make concessions on Obamacare in the context of emergency funding legislation.

The Senate voted Tuesday morning to block legislation the House passed about 1 a.m. that leverages a ten-week extension of the federal budget on a one-year delay of the Obamacare mandate, an end to federal subsidies congressional members and staffers can use on the exchanges, and a motion to appoint lawmakers to a conference committee.

Now that the shutdown has started, there are myriad reasons — from the furloughed federal workers to the shuttered national recreation areas — for lawmakers to make a deal.

But rejecting the measure gave each side all the excuse they needed to dig in and blame the other side for the conundrum.

House lawmakers will be able to accuse the Senate of being too recalcitrant to compromise.

“The Senate has continued to reject our offers,” House Speaker John Boehner said last night. “Under the Constitution, there’s a way to resolve this process, and that is to talk through your differences...We are hoping the Senate will take our offer to go to conference and let us resolve our differences.”

And senators can blame House Republicans for trying to negotiate through hostage-taking.

“Don’t say you’re happy to fund the government if you give us a little arrow to put in our quiver to say, ‘We hurt Obamacare,’” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this morning. “They want it to fail. That’s why they’re doing all this.”

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