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Sweet on shutdown: This may take a while

 
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House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor R-Va. left House Majority Whip Rep. KevMcCarthy R-Calif. rear center look as Speaker House

House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., left, and House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., rear center, look on as Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 in Washington. Congress was unable to reach a midnight deadline to keep the government funded, triggering the first government shutdown in more than 17 years. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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Updated: November 3, 2013 6:32AM



WASHINGTON — Nothing happened Tuesday to indicate there is going to be a quick end to the partial federal government shutdown. Nonetheless, there is new gamesmanship to report.

House GOP leaders took a break from trying to derail Obamacare — on the day the new health insurance online marketplaces opened for business — to vote on measures to fund veterans’ programs, to provide District of Columbia city services and to reopen shuttered national parks, memorials and museums.

With wide swathes of federal agencies and departments closed for lack of congressional funding, the House GOP selected three highly visible programs to try to score some P.R. and political points. The move came as Republicans were being blamed for the shutdown. A Quinnipiac University national poll found a 3-1 rejection of the GOP shutdown strategy.

The measures failed to win the two-thirds vote needed to advance to the Senate. But it didn’t matter much since the Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama were never going to go for the GOP House’s latest piecemeal gambit. A White House veto threat came out hours before the votes.

As a weary-looking Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said to Wolf Blitzer on CNN about the piecemeal approach, “So it’s come to this? The Ted Cruz wish list?”

The GOP House drive to kill Obamacare — fueled by the Tea Party faction — is the root cause for the shutdown. So Obama could not avoid the linkage during a White House ceremony Tuesday to mark the launch of the health insurance marketplaces.

“This Republican shutdown did not have to happen, but I want every American to understand why it did happen,” Obama said. “Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to fund the government unless we defunded or dismantled the Affordable Care Act.

“They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job.”

As the Web-based health markets opened across the nation, Republicans here focused — somewhat gleefully — on the glitches in the massive rollout.

Obama blamed it on the outburst of unanticipated pent-up demand.

“Apple rolled out a new mobile operating system, and within days, they found a glitch, so they fixed it. I don’t remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads or threatening to shut down the company if they didn’t. That’s not how we do things in America,” Obama said.

At a 4 p.m. Eastern briefing for reporters, Marilyn Tavenner, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said 2.8 million people by then had visited HealthCare.gov, which debuted at midnight. (The Get Covered Illinois website by 3:30 p.m. Chicago time had attracted more than 69,840 visitors.)

It dawned on me late Monday night in the Capitol — minutes before the shutdown kicked in, and after discussions with lawmakers and strategists — that Democrats gave away a bargaining chip.

At issue is the passage of a stopgap continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded past the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

The measure the House GOP poisoned by inserting language to defund, delay or weaken Obamacare would keep funding at the levels it is right now.

Keep in mind we’re talking about a bill that will run only through mid-November or December.

But let’s back up.

Democrats months ago made GOP-demanded funding concessions due to earlier cuts in what is known as the “sequestration.”

In this latest round, some liberal Democrats groused at being asked to vote for a resolution at the reduced spending levels, but did not raise a fuss in the name of party unity. Still, Democrats never even put spending levels on the table. They gave it away once. They could have done it again.

If the GOP leaders were not so consumed with killing off Obamacare, they could have claimed a fiscal hawk victory.

Email: lsweet@suntimes.com

Twitter: @lynnsweet



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