Open U.S. government first, then will look at Republican offer -Senator Reid

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 01, 2013 3:04 PM
Open U.S. government first, then will look at Republican offer -Senator Reid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said on Tuesday Republicans must agree to open the government before Democrats would consider their latest offer to end the budget stalemate, which has shut down most government services and functions.

The Senate's majority leader said he had not yet seen details of a new plan by House of Representatives Republicans to pass a series of targeted spending bills. The first of them, which might be debated on the House floor later on Tuesday, would re-open national parks, veterans' programs and funding for the District of Columbia, according to Republican lawmakers.

"Are they opening the government; that's the first thing they should do," Reid said, referring to all federal agencies and programs. He added, "If they (House Republicans) open the government, we'd be happy to go to conference with them; we'd be happy to consider those bills."

Reid spoke to reporters briefly outside an event marking the opening of enrollment in insurance exchanges where people can buy health insurance under President Barack Obama's healthcare law.

The government officially shut down early on Tuesday after the House and Senate approved competing bills to fund the government but failed to reach a deal.

Republicans had been insisting that measures to slow the start of Obama's healthcare plan be part of any deal. Now, they are pursuing a different strategy of trying to reopen less controversial federal programs while pushing for negotiations on funding the rest of the government.

Democrats have been seeking a six-week extension of funding for all government programs at current levels to give them time to work out a deal with Republicans that would run through September 2014, the end of the current fiscal year.

Reid said he wants Veterans Administration programs fully up and running, but added: "The VA - is that more important than the FBI? Is that more important than the Forest Service?"

Two Senate Democratic aides said the latest House Republican idea was a non-starter.

(Reporting By Richard Cowan and Kim Dixon; Editing by Sandra Maler and Mohammad Zargham)