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Published October 01 2013

ND delegation members call for compromise to end shutdown, but show no signs of giving up positions

BISMARCK – Members of North Dakota’s congressional delegation called for compromise Tuesday to end the first federal government shutdown since 1995, but neither side showed any willingness to give up on their respective party’s sticking points.

Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer, both Republicans, and Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp voted along party lines as Congress failed to reach agreement by midnight Monday on a continuing resolution that would have kept the government running.

Heitkamp accused Republicans of trying to use the six-week continuing resolution – which she noted had a dollar figure agreed to by leadership in the Republican-controlled House – as “a vehicle to legislate other issues,” most notably attempts to defund the Affordable Care Act or, as in the final GOP-offered bill, delay its individual insurance mandate by one year. The insurance exchanges required by the act opened on Tuesday.

“I think that they made a promise to the most extreme in their party that they were going to get this done, and they drew the line on the exchanges,” Heitkamp said.

Hoeven noted that majority Democrats in the Senate rejected the House’s offer to meet in conference committee to try to resolve differences over the continuing resolution. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to accept a “reasonable compromise” that would keep government running and spare Americans from the initial impact of the health reform law, he said.

“Republicans have already offered a number of compromises, notably modifying our call to defund Obamacare to delaying the program for one year, an action the American people support,” Hoeven said in a news release Tuesday. “The president has already delayed the employer mandate, and it is only fair and reasonable that he and Democrats accord the same consideration to ordinary Americans by delaying the individual mandate.

“Compromise always involves give and take. Democrats need to join with us, in a bipartisan way, to resolve our differences and get our government operating again.”

Cramer said the Senate’s rejection of the House’s three funding bills and final request for a conference committee made it “hard to tell if the president and the Senate have a commitment to keep the government running at all.” He noted the House bill sent to the Senate for conference committee would have required members of Congress and their staff, as well as the president and his administration’s political appointees, to enroll in the insurance exchanges and pay the full cost of coverage without an employer contribution from the government.

“Democrats insisted on shutting the government for the sake of keeping preferential treatment for politicians under Obamacare, while we voted for equal treatment under the law,” Cramer said in a statement.

Heitkamp noted that Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., had previously gone to the floor 18 times to seek permission to appoint a conference committee, but was denied by GOP lawmakers.

“So they’re a little late to this game of ‘give us the conference,’ a little late to ‘We want to negotiate,’ ” Heitkamp said.

Heitkamp said that while by law she can’t refuse her Senate salary, she will be donating it to North Dakota charities during the shutdown.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528