Both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill want to avoid a second government shutdown that could haunt them in the 2014 midterm elections, and they are racing to reach a budget deal that would avoid it before Congress adjourns for Christmas.
The parties have been here before. But this time, members on both sides appear motivated to avoid what would be the second shuttering of the federal government since October, say House and Senate negotiators. Congress has until Jan. 15 to strike a deal, although lawmakers could pass a stopgap measure to extend the bargaining period, a plan now under consideration.
One of the negotiators, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said the 16-day October shutdown taught Republicans the political perils of instigating a similar stalemate, while the troubled Obamacare rollout has apparently chastened Democrats. The fact that both sides have negotiating from weakness, Cole said, sets the current budget talks apart from previous bargaining sessions.
“I think both sides really need a deal this time,” Cole said. “I think politically, each side has had a difficult six or eight weeks for different reasons. We did over the shutdown. They’re having their problems with ... the Affordable [Care] Act.”
Democrats got a political boost from the October shutdown because voters blamed Republicans for blocking a budget deal with their improbable quest to defund Obamacare.
But Democrats have lost that political edge. The Oct. 1 rollout of the new health care law, President Obama's signature achievement, proved disastrous, and Obama ended up apologizing to millions of Americans whose existing health plans were cancelled despite his repeated promises that they wouldn't be.
Democrats now fear that voters will transfer their anger from Republicans to Democrats in next year's elections.
SCOTT BROWN WARMS TO NH SENATE RUN
Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown is making all the right moves for someone considering another Senate run. This time, however, the seat Brown might seek is in neighboring New Hampshire.
Brown, who lost a re-election bid in Massachusetts in 2012, has over the past few weeks become markedly more receptive to the idea of challenging Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, and sources close to the Brown say the odds of him running have risen to 50-50.
“He's certainly leaving the option open, whereas he's closed the door on other races,” including a special Senate election in Massachusetts and a bid for Massachusetts governor, said one strategist familiar with Brown's thinking. “The only door he's leaving open is New Hampshire Senate.”
Brown is in no hurry to decide before the New Year, but he has been dropping public hints of his interest. Last month, he erased the "MA" (for Massachusetts) from his Twitter handle, which is now just @SenScottBrown. He established a political action committee in New Hampshire that already contributed $10,000 to the state GOP. And on Dec. 19, he'll headline a New Hampshire state Republican holiday reception.
New Hampshire Republicans insist Brown would be welcomed into the race, despite his Massachusetts roots.
“We have a tradition up here of giving all candidates a fair shot,” said New Hampshire GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Horn. “As the senator has spent more and more time up here, the feedback I’ve gotten from the grassroots has been overwhelmingly positive.”
US CHAMBER COMES TO MCCONNELL'S AID
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is coming to the aid of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with a new ad calling the embattled Republican a protector of the coal industry and "a fighter who never lets Kentucky down."
"As the EPA is trying to kill Kentucky's coal industry, Mitch McConnell is fighting back, fighting hard," the ad says. Coal is one of Kentucky's top economic drivers and the ad is intended to counter criticisms that McConnell isn't fighting hard enough to reverse new Obama administration emissions standards that could shut down some coal plants.
The chamber's intervention comes at a time when pro-business, establishment Republicans like McConnell are facing primary challengers and political threats from conservatives who are insisting on greater ideological purity. Business groups like the chamber, worried about losing their strongest allies on Capitol Hill, said they intend to counter conservative insurgents in the 2014 elections, particularly in the GOP primaries.