Pelosi: Republicans using 'legislative arson' in budget battles

Sept. 3, 2013: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House.

Sept. 3, 2013: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House.  (AP)

The Washington budget battle intensified Sunday, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi saying Republicans’ ultimatum to either defund ObamaCare or risk a government shutdown is “legislative arson.”

"This is totally irresponsible, completely juvenile, and, as I called it, 'legislative arson,' " the California Democrat told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It's just destructive."

Congress has until Oct. 1 to agree on a temporary spending deal, or else the federal government will technically run out of money and be forced to furlough workers and maintain an otherwise bare-bones operation.

Such deals usually get resolved after some tough negotiating, but a House-passed bill Friday to fund everything but President Obama’s signature health care law has complicated the issue. Furthermore, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has suggested a GOP-led filibuster should the Democrat-controlled Senate swiftly send the bill back to the Republican-controlled House.

"I believe we should stand our ground," Cruz told “Fox News Sunday.”

He also said that if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid nixes the House plan, then “he’s responsible for shutting down the government.”  

Reid said last week he would keep the health law intact despite Republicans' attempts, in his words, "to take an entire law hostage simply to appease the Tea Party anarchists."

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, told Fox News that Cruz's efforts were destructive and self-serving as he eyes a White House campaign.

"This is about running for president with Ted Cruz,” she said. “This isn't about meaningful statesmanship."   

The wrangling over the budget comes as lawmakers consider separate legislation that would let the United States avoid a first-ever default on its debt obligations. House Republicans are planning legislation that would attach a 1-year delay in the health care law in exchange for ability to increase the nation's credit limit of $16.7 trillion.

Obama, speaking to political allies on Saturday evening, showed little patience for the GOP efforts to undermine his legislative accomplishment by either avenue.

"We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations," Obama told the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation dinner. "We're not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point."

Congress doesn't seem eager to help Obama, although there are deep divides -- both between parties and within them -- over who deserves blame.

Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., said the goal was to defund the president's health care legislation for at least one more year if not forever.

"We do have eight days to reach a resolution on this, and I proposed an idea that kept the government operating and opened for an entire year while delaying and defunding ObamaCare for a year so that we could work out those differences," he told ABC’s “This Week.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose faceoff with Bill Clinton led to a government shutdown and Democratic electoral wave, said his GOP colleagues should not yield.

"This is not a dictatorship,” he told ABC. “Under our Constitution, there should be a period of tension and there should be a compromise on both sides."

It is likely that when the House legislation arrives in the Senate, Democrats there will strip off the health care defunding mechanism. Democrats plan to send back to the House a bill that prevents disruptions in government services but not the health provision they championed.

Cruz, however, said Senate Republicans cannot allow that to happen and should mount every procedural hurdle available. Cruz, who pushed lawmakers to tie a budget bill with health care hurdles, said Republicans should mount a procedural roadblock that would require 60 votes for any changes to the House bill.

"You know what? If Senate Republicans stand together, we can stop Harry Reid from doing it," Cruz said.

But within his own party, Cruz faces skepticism.

"It's not a tactic that we can actually carry out and be successful," Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn told CBS' "Face the Nation." "The answer now in the Senate, by those who propose this strategy, is to filibuster the very bill they said they wanted."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.