Republican leaders react to Schumer gaffe on budget strategy

Chris Moody Contributor
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Republican leaders wasted little time playing up reports Tuesday that New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, told other members of his party that the caucus had urged him to start calling Republican budget cut proposals “extreme” during public battle between the parties of government spending.

“Chuck Schumer did us a favor. He exposed their tactic,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, told reporters. “You heard his comment. He’s basically instructing his members to deem any spending cut unreasonable. Any spending cut. So clearly they’re not serious.”

Just hours earlier, Schumer was heard on a conference call with reporters giving what Republicans immediately dubbed “marching orders” for how to frame the debate on government funding.

The potentially embarrassing episode revealed something that happens every day in Washington — partisan maneuvering, messaging and coordination — but it is uncommon that a party can lift the curtain on the opposing side’s sausage making. With that in mind, Republicans wasted no time in calling out Schumer for telling other Democrats to call them “extreme.”

“I always use the word extreme,” Schumer told Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Barbara Boxer of California, Benjamin Cardin and Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, according to New York Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer, who was on the call without Schumer knowing it. “That is what the caucus instructed me to use this week.”

House Republicans are in the middle of closed-door negotiations with Senate Democrats and the White House to come to an agreement on funding the government for the remainder of the fiscal year. House Republicans passed a proposal to cut $61 billion from the federal government nearly 40 days ago and GOP leaders say they are still waiting on Democrats to offer a counter proposal. Senate Democratic aides have reportedly said they the party has already offered around $30 billion in cuts, but Republicans say no deal has been struck yet.

Schumer’s comments, said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, aren’t doing anything to help that situation.

“One thing that’s not particularly helpful in reaching an agreement are some of the comments on the other side,” McConnell told reporters, citing Schumer’s comments as quoted in the Times. “That’s really not helpful if we’re trying to reach an agreement here.”

Kevin McCarthy, the third-ranking Republican in the House, took a shot at Schumer, calling him the Democrats’ “de facto leader.”

“Now I even wonder who is leading the Senate. Do we have a de facto leader in Schumer, who thinks he wants to engineer a political game, as many reporters actually could hear on the call?” McCarthy said. “He’s spending more time on politics than he’s spending on policy. He’s taking politics before people. That is not what the American people expect.”

Both sides have until April 8 — when the last stop-gap funding measure runs out — to reach an agreement. When questioned, Boehner did not rule out passing yet another short-term spending bill to buy more time for negotiations.

Madeleine Joelson contributed to this report.

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