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December 21, 2014

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Harry Reid: Piecemeal government funding a nonstarter

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Susan Walsh / AP

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid talks on the phone after stepping out of a Democratic policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to scramble to reach agreement on funding the federal government.

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 »

The déjà vu-inspiring budget proposals just keep coming: This afternoon, House Republicans proposed funding parts of the federal government through the shutdown, starting with the Veterans Administration, national parks and national monuments.

It’s an odd turn for this standoff for one simple reason: Piecemeal spending bills are the way Congress is supposed to get the government funded when things are functioning normally.

Now, in the midst of the first federal shutdown in 17 years, Republican lawmakers are urging a return to those roots.

“I think we oughtta fund vital priorities,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas said, pointing out that House and Senate lawmakers came together in the midst of the brewing shutdown storm to pass a bill to continue paying the troops and the Department of Defense’s civilian employees throughout the government closure.

“We ought to be doing the same thing on each of the critical priorities the president laid out in his speech yesterday,” Cruz said.

But there are a few problems with the approach.

The first is that passing budgets piece by piece usually takes time — and there’s no time to waste now that the government is shut down.

Cruz, who was one of the originators of this approach now being considered in the House, argued that turning on the short-term funding again for certain agencies could be done quickly.

“It doesn’t take weeks or even days; within hours, if Congress wants to, we can fund every single one of the priorities the president laid out yesterday,” Cruz said. “We can fund them in a clean CR, if simply Harry Reid and the Democrats simply don’t object.”

There’s also the problem that funding certain parts of the government likely means not funding other vital parts.

Cruz said focusing on the VA, parks and monuments is simply responding to priorities President Barack Obama laid out in speeches on the shutdown. Obama did discuss the plight of veterans, who will find their support centers closed, and tourists, who will find national parks shuttered beginning today.

On Monday, he also discussed the almost complete closure of NASA and “vital services” directed toward seniors, women and children. But Republicans are not lining up House bills to address those areas of federal funding.

Finally, there is what is potentially the most important problem: Democrats in the Senate will not agree to this approach.

“They are focusing on trying to chery-pick some of the few parts of the government that they like,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, deriding the plan as “just another wacky idea by the Tea Party-driven Republicans.”

“We can’t and we won’t be forced to choose between parks and cancer research or disease control or highway safety or the FBI,” Reid said. “This is not serious. The government’s shut down. If they think they’re going to come and nit-pick us on this, it won’t work.”

Nonetheless, the House is expected to vote on these narrow measures to keep certain highly-visible parts of the government open during a shutdown Tuesday evening.

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