Anyone listening to the flying rhetorical missiles here in Washington Tuesday would think everyone involved is heck-bent on a government shutdown, even though everyone involved says they're not.
Today's verbal brush fire was started when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., proposed a 30-day government funding measure that would keep the wheels turning after March 4, when the current stopgap resolution runs out. This, the leader said, would give lawmakers time to negotiate for something more long term that would include deeper spending cuts.
Democratic leaders claimed this plan would cut $41 billion from the budget, a similar mathematical twist used by House Republicans last week to claim they had kept a campaign promise to cut $100 billion from the budget, a twist decried by Dems. Problem is, both parties are using President Obama's proposed budget for this year, a budget that was never approved. So, that's why the House GOP cuts in real time totaled $61 billion, not $100 billion, though still a massive number by anyone's calculation. It's also why it's correct to say Senate Democrats are merely locking in current 2010 spending levels, a significant savings, as well.
Republicans, however, flatly dismissed Reid's offer, calling it disingenuous. "While Leader Reid claims that his plan cuts spending, all it does is lock in the status quo spending levels which increased 24% over the past two years. I challenge him to identify a single cut from current spending levels included in his plan," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
Then the mud really started flying.
On a conference call with reporters, an intense Reid all but accused the GOP of lying, saying, "We have a difference over what to cut. We've already proposed $41 billion in cuts, but for the Republicans to say we're not cutting anything, they're being disingenuous and unfair, and really not very truthful."
Reid's right-hand man, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-Ny., who runs the caucus' messaging and policy machine, joined Reid on the call and went directly at House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, accusing the leader of caving to the far right, singling out possible 2012 GOP presidential contender, former Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska.
"He's under intense pressure from the right wing both outside Washington and inside his caucus, and he's being misled and pushed around by his conservative freshmen who don't remember what happened in 1995, and not only don't fear a government shutdown, but they actually say they welcome one. Sarah Palin, leader of this right wing group, said on Thursday, last Thursday, on Long Island that she wanted a government shutdown."
Sarah Palin, a Fox contributor, spoke last week to a Long Island Business Association, and focused more on the looming standoff over raising the nation's borrowing limit, called the "debt ceiling," as the former Alaska governor urged Republicans to oppose the move. At one point, Palin said, "Not necessarily would that be a bad thing on either side" in referring to a shutdown, but then she said, "It doesn't necessarily have to result in a government shutdown."
"The only people who refuse to consider ANY spending cuts in the short-term (funding bill) are the Senate Democratic Leaders like Sens. Reid and Schumer," Michael Steel, spokesman for Boehner, said in a mail to reporters Tuesday evening. "With a massive federal deficit and record-setting debt, the idea that we can't cut one penny worth of federal government spending is indefensible."
Democratic leaders said they would agree to deeper cuts, but they insist on doing so in a longer term funding resolution, not in their 30-day measure proposed Tuesday.
"We're willing to go deeper. We're willing to sit down and negotiate and look beyond the $41 billion and find extra cuts to take us through the year. The House Republicans are saying that's not good enough either. The House Republicans won't take 'yes' for an answer," Schumer chided.
One thing is certain, the war of words is getting uglier as March 5 comes ever closer, with Democrats getting more personal in their attacks on Republican leaders. It's unclear where compromise can be found in this heated, increasingly partisan environment.
But Cantor did get one thing he asked for on Tuesday. Leader Reid endorsed a cut embraced by Defense Secretary Bob Gates, one that nixes an airborne laser, or ray gun.
"We're not going to get into detail on what we would look at in a long-term (government funding bill), but we don't need the ray guns. Secretary Gates has said that already," Reid said.
"The projected annual cost for all directed energy research which includes the Airborne Laser Test Bed budget for FY12 is about $98 million within the FY12 (Missile Defense Agency), request which is about $8.6 billion," a Missile Defense Agency spokesman tells Fox's Justin Fishel.
Problem is, the 1990's-era weapon system, which numerous administrations have sought to defund, has always been resuscitated by none other than bipartisan members of Congress.