Party leaders pointing fingers in budget battle

As Oct. 1 deadline nears, blame being cast by Dems, GOP

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WASHINGTON — Even before a budget deadline arrives, leaders from both parties are blaming each other — and some Republicans are criticizing their own — for a government shutdown many are treating as inevitable.

The top Democrat in the House says Republicans are "legislative arsonists" who are using their opposition to a sweeping health care overhaul as an excuse to close government's doors. A leading tea party antagonist in the Senate counters that conservatives should use any tool available to stop the Affordable Care Act from taking hold.

President Bill Clinton's labor secretary says the GOP is willing "to risk the entire system of government to get your way," while the House speaker who oversaw the last government shutdown urged fellow Republicans to remember "this is not a dictatorship."

The unyielding political posturing Sunday came a little more than a week before Congress reaches an Oct. 1 deadline to dodge any interruptions in government services. While work continues on a temporary spending bill, a potentially more devastating deadline looms a few weeks later when the government could run out of money to pay its bills.

"This is totally irresponsible, completely juvenile and, as I called it, legislative arson. It's just destructive," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in an interview that aired Sunday.

The Republican-led House on Friday approved legislation designed to wipe out the 3-year-old health care law that President Barack Obama has vowed to preserve. But the House's move was more a political win than a measure likely to be implemented.

Across the Capitol, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said he would keep the health law intact despite Republicans' attempts, in his words, "to take an entire law hostage simply to appease the Tea Party anarchists."

One of those tea party agitators, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, showed little sign on Sunday that he cared about the uphill climb to make good on his pledge to derail the health care law over Obama's guaranteed veto.

"I believe we should stand our ground," said Cruz, who already was trying to blame Obama and his Democratic allies if the government shuts down.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, called Cruz's efforts destructive and self-serving as he eyes a White House campaign.

"I cannot believe that they are going to throw a tantrum and throw the American people and our economic recovery under the bus," she said. Later, she said, "This is about running for president with Ted Cruz. This isn't about meaningful statesmanship."

The wrangling over the budget comes as lawmakers consider separate legislation that would let the U.S. avoid a first-ever default on its debt obligations. House Republicans are planning legislation that would attach a 1-year delay in the health care law in exchange for ability to increase the nation's credit limit of $16.7 trillion.

Obama, speaking to political allies Saturday evening, showed little patience for the GOP efforts to undermine his legislative accomplishment by either avenue.

"We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations," Obama told the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation dinner. "We're not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point."

Congress doesn't seem eager to help Obama, although there are deep divides -- both between parties and within them -- over who deserves blame.

Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., said the goal was to defund the president's health care legislation for at least one more year if not forever.

"We do have eight days to reach a resolution on this, and I propose an idea that kept the government operating and opened for an entire year while delaying and defunding Obamacare for a year so that we could work out those differences," Graves said.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose faceoff with Clinton led to government shutdowns that inflicted significant damage on the GOP and helped the then-president's political fortunes in time for his 1996 re-election, said his GOP colleagues should not yield.

"This is not a dictatorship. Under our constitution, there should be a period of tension and there should be a compromise on both sides," Gingrich said.

Robert Reich, who was Clinton's labor secretary, said that works only if both parties are willing to negotiate.