Eric Swanson Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The vote to end the partial government shutdown sent federal employees back to work and set the stage for budget negotiations, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole said last week.
“This is the first time we’ve had a Democratic Senate budget and a Republican House budget,” the Oklahoma Republican said in an Oct. 22 phone interview. “The right thing to do under our system is go sit down and see if you can work out the differences, and this made that at least possible.”
Cole noted that the measure ending the shutdown gave lawmakers until Dec. 13 to negotiate a budget resolution. The deal expires on Jan. 15, which could trigger another shutdown if Congress fails to approve a new budget.
Federal workers who were furloughed without pay when the shutdown began Oct. 1 will receive back pay under the deal.
The legislation ending the shutdown extended the government’s borrowing authority until Feb. 7, but it did not limit the Treasury Department’s ability to shift funds among accounts once the debt ceiling is reached. That means the government could take temporary steps to avoid defaulting on its debt if Congress doesn’t act before Feb. 7.
The deal preserved a series of automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, which will play a role in lawmakers’ next round of budget negotiations.
The Republican-controlled House is considering a budget that sets spending for next year at post-sequestration levels of about $967 billion, Cole said. He added that the Democrat-dominated Senate is contemplating a $1.05 trillion budget that does not take the sequester into account.
“We’re about $90 billion apart, so we’re not looking for a global settlement,” he said. “But how do you bridge that $90 billion difference?”
Cole is one of four House Republicans serving on a budget conference committee made up of lawmakers from the House and Senate. The committee’s task is to produce a spending plan by Dec. 13.
The GOP’s efforts to eliminate or delay the health care law — known as Obamacare — led to a standoff over federal spending this fall. The impasse ultimately triggered the partial shutdown, which ended when Congress approved a bill to reopen the government on Oct. 16.
Cole said the recent drama holds several lessons for lawmakers, including the idea that shutting down the government is not a good strategy for achieving policy goals.
“Because you shift the debate from the thing you’re trying to achieve — repeal of Obamacare — to who shut down the government and why and what are the consequences,” he said. “Government shutdowns in America have not historically forced the other side to do something.”
Cole said the shutdown also lowered voters’ confidence in lawmakers and other branches of government.
“The cynicism and the frustration that you generate when you do something like that — it’s just not the right thing to do,” he said. “And I hope people finally learned that you never advance your political ends by making life worse for the American people. There’s no way a government shutdown makes life better.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Associated Press contributed to this report.