WASHINGTON – During this fiscal crisis, two things are true about Minnesota’s five Democrats in the U.S. House: 1) they’re spectators with little input in the process and 2) it’s increasingly likely that they’ll be called upon to provide the bulk of votes needed to reopen the shuttered federal government and increase the debt ceiling.
As the minority party, Democrats are essentially powerless to shape the legislative agenda and in general, House Speaker John Boehner has often preferred to push legislation that can garner a majority of 218 votes solely with the Republican caucus.
The House GOP tried to craft a bill to fund the government and extend the debt ceiling before a Thursday deadline but the effort collapsed Tuesday after conservatives warned the draft bill did too little to undo the 2010 healthcare law — a non-starter for President Obama and Senate Democrats.
That failure has shifted focus back to the U.S. Senate where bipartisan talks are underway to draft a relatively short-term compromise that makes only the most symbolic policy changes with the understanding that the House will then have to adopt the bill.
8th District Democrat Rick Nolan said it’s clear few House Republicans will vote for such a bill.
“We’re prepared to put up 190, 200 [Democratic] votes and there’s another 35, 40 Republicans who have indicated that they’re prepared to vote for that,” said Nolan.
But it galls Nolan to vote for a measure that’s at a far lower funding level than he believes is necessary.
“I’m one of those that’s willing to vote for a budget that I quite frankly don’t agree with as long as it’s temporary to get the government open and eliminate the risk of defaulting on our debt,” said Nolan.
Amid the chaos in the House Republican conference, Minnesota’s three House Republicans appeared to be avoiding the spotlight Tuesday. None responded to interview requests. Rep. Michele Bachmann, one of the backers of the hardball tactics that led to the shutdown, posted criticisms of the health care law on Twitter throughout the day but never addressed the shutdown or debt ceiling issues that have paralyzed Congress.
The pressure is rising for a deal to happen quickly. The U.S. Treasury Department says it will run out of maneuvering room to manage the national debt and prevent a default if Congress doesn’t act by Thursday.