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POLITICS: PennAve

For Capitol Hill Democrats, 'shutdown' is the new 'bailout'

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,PennAve,Chuck Schumer,Budgets and Deficits,Spending,Sheldon Whitehouse,Infrastructure,Interstate Highways

Democrats on Capitol Hill are turning to last year's playbook in the fight over highway spending.

On Monday, Senate Democrats used the word "shutdown" 13 times to describe what would happen if Republicans don't support a compromise bill to pay for summer and fall road projects.

“This would mirror the government shutdown,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters, harkening back to the October 2013 spending fight that closed federal offices, parks and other services for more than two weeks.

Schumer added, “It would be a highway shutdown.”

Bipartisan talks are underway between House and Senate lawmakers on a short term measure, but the two sides haven’t worked out a deal to pay the approximately $11 billion price tag.

Without a solution, highway funding will run dry, and states will not have the money to pay for road and bridge work during the height of the summer construction season.

Democrats are hoping to define the the highway funding stalemate as another “shutdown” provoked by the GOP, even though both parties are arguing over the terms of the extension.

From a legislative perspective, the highway spending fight is not exactly the same as last year's shutdown, but Democrats have a good reason to try to stretch the term.

The public largely blamed last year's government shutdown on the Republican party, who refused to fund a 2014 spending bill unless it stripped out money for the new health care law they oppose. Republicans took a significant hit in the polls as a result of the gridlock and the 16 days of closures.

With the midterm elections approaching and Republicans close to regaining control of the Senate, Democrats are hoping to rekindle among voters those angry shutdown feelings they once felt for the GOP.

Democrats roped into the GOP shutdown label the program and contract cuts that took place under the bipartisan budget control act, also known as the sequester.

“Here we go again,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., told reporters. “We seem to be reverting once again to the Republican strategy of governing by crisis. We lived through the government shutdown. We lived through all the contracts and projects that had to be shut down because of the sequester. Now we are headed for a transportation construction shutdown.”

Democrats are now using the word "shutdown" in much the same way that Republicans sought to tar various government programs as "bailouts."

Although a $700 billion emergency bank bailout passed along bipartisan lines in 2008, it became so unpopular with the public that Republicans began using the term to describe everything from assistance to Detroit to a reimbursement scheme for the insurance industry in the Affordable Care Act.

Despite the harsh words, several Democrats said Republicans are likely to agree to a highway spending compromise before Congress adjourns for the August recess.

“Signs are looking good that we can come to that compromise,” Schumer said.

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner

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