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Policy: Budgets & Deficits

House Dems shifting focus to budget fight

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Steve Contorno,Paul Ryan,House of Representatives,Democratic Party,Debt Ceiling,Nancy Pelosi,PennAve,Budgets and Deficits,Government Shutdown,Chris Van Hollen

House Democrats on Thursday used the debate over the government shutdown to rally public support for their spending priorities and spark a broader fight about the budget.

The government shutdown, now in its tenth day, started as a battle over Obamacare, as House Republicans tied measures delaying or defunding the healthcare law to their spending bills.

But with GOP leaders now urging Obama to negotiate deeper spending cuts and entitlement reforms in exchange for reopening the government, Democrats intend to shift their focus to broader budget issues.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, House Democrats' top budget negotiator, sparked the debate on Thursday, criticizing Republican priorities in the spending plan they passed earlier this year, warning the measures would "reduce the deficit primarily by squeezing" seniors and cutting education funding.

"I'm exhilarated by the prospect of a public debate over the budget," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday. "It's about growth, job creation -- how do we make decisions and investments in education to keep America number one; how do we pay for this; how do we have something that is balanced.

“That is the values debate that we need to have. And so that's what we look forward to," she added.

Getting to that point remains a struggle for Democrats.

House Republicans floated a plan Thursday that would raise the debt ceiling for six weeks while a budget deal is hashed out. The White House said President Obama would “likely” sign the bill, but joined congressional Democrats in opposing any budget talks until Republicans pass a “clean” continuing resolution free of conditions.

Pelosi said she preferred Congress to increase the debt ceiling for at least one year and that a six-week extension "is not the right way to go" but added she wanted to "see what [Republicans] have to offer."

It's unclear if the temporary extension would have strings attached or strip Obama of the authority to act on the debt limit independently of Congress.

As the two sides prepare for the larger budget showdown, Democrats slammed Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, accusing him of already drawing lines in the sand.

On Sunday, the Republican leader said new revenues were off the table.

"On national television the speaker said: Why can't we have a conversation? Why can't we have a negotiation? And then in the same breath, he said, well, we're not going to negotiate about closing one single tax break as part of reducing the deficit," said Van Hollen, D-Md.

"They're pretending to be open about negotiations between the House Republican budget and the Democratic budgets. And on the one hand they're closing the door before the negotiation even starts."

Meanwhile, Democrats claim they're willing to discuss anything once the government is reopened, including tax reform — a GOP priority — and even the president's healthcare law.

Pelosi indicated as much Thursday. "Any law that is passed, another law can be passed to amend it," she said.

But the House Democratic leader also said she is wary of where Republicans might take the conversation after years of trying to tear down Obamacare.

In an op-ed this week in the Wall Street Journal, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., presented the GOP case for Medicare reform in exchange for ending the shutdown.

"Be very careful about the facade that they put on this health issue," Pelosi said, "because what we're concerned about is where they go next on that subject."

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