Top ranking House Democrat Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland pined for the latter days of Newt Gingrich’s time in the House on Tuesday, calling for now-Speaker John Boehner to take heed of his predecessor’s 1998 “perfectionist caucus” speech that called out members of his own party unwilling to compromise with Democrats.
After fighting President Clinton for years over the federal budget, a battle that cost the country two separate government shutdowns, Gingrich told his party that in a free society it is “impossible” to write “the perfect bill” and that there must be some “give and take.” Hoyer, seeing echoes of Gingrich’s era in today’s political environment, said that Boehner could learn a thing or two from the former speaker.
“The ‘perfectionist caucus’ tail is wagging the Republican dog,” Hoyer said, referring to Tea Party-backed Republicans. “And if the perfectionist caucus prevails in their caucus, Mr. Gingrich will be proven right that you can’t get to compromise, you can’t get to agreement, which in a democratic government is absolutely essential if you’re gonna have action. And the result will be, unfortunately, that the government will be put to the brink of being shut down and may be shut down.”
Both sides are gearing up for a showdown in the next few weeks over the federal budget, a game Democrats and Republicans play now every few weeks now because Congress has not passed an official budget since 2009.
The House in February passed a measure to fund the government through the next fiscal year that included about $61 billion in cuts to the budget, and have been negotiating with Democrats to find a compromise on a deal since. Complicating the talks is an emboldened caucus of conservative Republicans, many of whom are freshman backed by local Tea Party groups, who repeatedly say they will refuse to budget from their budget principles. Earlier this month, 54 House Republicans voted against a short-term measure to extend government funding for three weeks, a sign that more in Congress are growing tired of short-term fixes.
National Journal reported Tuesday that House Republican leaders had “pulled away” from talks with the White House over negotiations to fund the government through the fiscal year, although a spokesman for Boehner has said that Republicans were continuing negotiations and that Democrats were “making up fairy tales.”
The federal government is currently being funded through a short-term stop gap resolution that expires on April 8 and the Republican-led House must find some sort of agreement with the Democrat-led Senate and White House by that time or risk a government shutdown.
Repeating calls from Democratic Senate leaders for Boehner to “abandon the Tea Party,” Hoyer said that Boehner would have to make a choice between working with Democrats and burning bridges with a block of his own party, or face a government shutdown by standing by the Tea Party’s call for cuts.
“Let us hope that cooler heads prevail in the Republican party,” Hoyer said, adding that Democrats bear “no” responsibility if the government shuts down.
Republicans, however, don’t see it that way, although both sides seem to be working to publicly shift blame on the other side in case it does occur.
Citing the fact that Democrats control the Senate and the White House, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said Monday that Americans would blame Democrats for a shutdown.
“In the scope of our debt crisis, if Senator Reid and Senator Schumer force the government to partially shut down over sensible spending cuts, Americans will hold them accountable,” Cantor said in a statement.
On that premise — that Democrats are in charge of two decision-making bodies, therefore they would be to blame — Hoyer fired back that his party does not “control” the government.
“It’s self-evident that we don’t control Washington,” Hoyer said. “That the American people elected Republicans to control the House of Representatives they have one third … the president, the Senate, and the House, they have to come to an agreement.”
Madeleine Joelson contributed to this report.