Democrats, Republicans Switch Roles

Flipping the script, now it's Republicans claiming that Democrats are holding the government hostage.

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The government is only a few days away from partially shutting down, and the sides are at a standoff about what to do. One party in particular is being accused of holding the government hostage, using the threat of a government shutdown as a chance to push through its own partisan agenda.

Sound like the Republicans from earlier this year? No, it's the Democrats this time who are being blamed for holding the government hostage, and pushing the situation to the brink. "Dems Hold Government Funding Hostage, Risking Shutdown," read a GOP message sent to reporters Wednesday afternoon. "I think it's outrageous that Democrats have not signed the conference report to keep the government funded after Friday night at midnight," House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday night. Throughout 2011, it was Democrats who accused Republicans of using the threat of a government shutdown or a national default as a negotiating weapon, but the year-end rush of legislation has forced the parties into a peculiar role reversal.

Democrats, naturally, deny that they're holding up the budget for partisan reasons. Even though some Democrats have suggested that the budget deal is done, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid claims several outstanding issues remain unresolved. Reid said that one provision Republicans are trying to institute, regarding light bulb regulations, would be "going back, in effect, to the Dark Ages." Despite claims from Republicans, Reid said, "The bill is not completed."

[Opinion: Payroll tax cut undermines Social Security.]

As it stands now, funding for most government departments is set to expire on Dec. 16 unless Congress acts. A temporary payroll tax cut will also expire then, causing everyone's taxes to rise, and unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed will also run out. Tuesday night, the House of Representatives passed a measure which would extend those two items—but would also force the administration to act on the delayed Keystone transcontinental pipeline, a measure which most Democrats consider a deal-breaker. The chess match continued on Wednesday, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blocking a vote on the Republican bill—claiming that the Senate must act on the budget first. Once again, the Senate is stuck in gridlock.

Privately, Democrats fear that without playing hardball with the budget, the Republicans might leave town before resolving the payroll tax issue. With the budget done, the GOP-controlled House might try to leave the Senate between a rock and a hard place—either choose the House-passed payroll tax extension with the unemployment insurance overhauls and Keystone pipeline provisions, or allow taxes to go up.

aparker@usnews.com

Twitter: @AlexParkerDC