Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faces a Tea Party primary foe.

Evan Vucci • Associated Press,

oval office meeting: President Obama called Senate Democratic leaders to the White House on Saturday to discuss strategy. From left, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington met in the Oval Office.

Carolyn Kaster • Associated Press,

As the partial government shutdown enters its second week with no end in sight, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., rushes to the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, following a lunch gathering with fellow Democrats. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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From left, Repulican Sens. John Cornyn, Lindsey Graham and Lamar Alexander conferred Saturday in a hallway after Senate Republicans met before a vote on the debt ceiling. Said Graham: “Our friends in the House apparently can’t muster to votes to send something over here. to open up the government.” J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE • Associated Press

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House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is pursued by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, following a news conference where House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said Republicans will advance legislation to temporarily extend the government's ability to borrow to meet its obligations. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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The mood in Congress: 'It's dysfunction'

  • Article by: Rosalind S. Helderman
  • Washington Post
  • October 12, 2013 - 10:29 PM


Even for a Congress where griping is endemic and insults routine, spirits were especially dark Saturday.

For a legislative body that takes six weeks for its August break, the third consecutive working Saturday without any solution to the crises in sight meant short tempers and foul moods.

Most vocal in their bitterness were House Republicans, who voted midday and then left Washington until Monday, sputtering as they went that President Obama had halted talks with their leaders in favor of negotiating with Senate Republicans — and even angrier that their Senate colleagues seemed receptive to the president’s overture.

“They’re trying to cut the House out, and trying to jam us with the Senate. We’re not going to roll over and take that,” said House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

History repeating itself?

Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., not generally considered one of the House’s bomb-throwers, advised Republicans in the Senate to “grow a backbone and stand up with the House Republicans.”

Senate Republicans were likewise fed up with their House colleagues, for refusing to accept that they will not win major changes to the health care law and that their party’s leverage only decreases as the shutdown drags and default approaches. “Our friends in the House apparently can’t muster the votes to send something over here to open up the government, so it’s dysfunction at every level,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Past budget fights have ended with Senate Republicans forging agreement with Senate Democrats and then shoving it over to the House to be adopted on a bipartisan vote, over the objections of the GOP’s most conservative members. Republicans in both chambers appeared to be bracing for a repeat of that outcome, which would solve the current crisis but only deepen mistrust between Republicans in the Senate and in the House. But the ill will was broadly shared.

In the Senate, a bipartisan proposal to end the shutdown and raise debt ceiling written by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, provided a glimmer of hope Friday. It was declared dead a day later.

Senate Democrats emerged grim-faced from a 90-minute meeting where leaders briefed them on nascent talks underway between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in place of the Collins proposal, which ran aground amid Democratic opposition. “Adults will get in the room sooner or later,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., exiting the meeting early.

Manchin had backed Collins’ proposal, which would have funded the government for six months and raise the debt limit through the end of January.

An aide said other Democrats, who had opposed Collins’ proposal because it would have left the sequester untouched, had been growing annoyed with their own leadership as rumors spread that a deal was being forged around its tenets before they had been briefed about it.

‘In fits and starts’

Likewise, in the House, Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., had a raised-voice hallway confrontation with a member of his leadership, demanding to know how House leaders plan to resolve the stalemate.

“If Eric Cantor and John Boehner can’t answer the questions ‘what are we fighting for’ — that’s not good!” Rigell told Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the House’s fourth-ranking Republican.

Rigell has been one of the leading Republican voices urging the GOP to pass a measure to reopen the government. “We’re on the same page, but we need to be able to articulate specific objectives,” he continued, before an aide came over to suggest that the two continue the conversation in private.

Talks were expected to continue in the Senate through Sunday, where several members expressed hope that a breakthrough was not far off — always darkest before the dawn, and all that.

“There’s good discussion going,” said Sen. Timothy Kaine, D-Va., generally one of the chamber’s sunniest members. “I see us getting there, in fits and starts.”

But, he conceded: “I think people are pretty tired and haggard.”


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