J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., holds a news conference Oct. 3 with the GOP Doctors Caucus — members of the House who are medical professionals by training — to talk about how the government shutdown is affecting medical research.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., holds a news conference Oct. 3 with the GOP Doctors Caucus — members of the House who are medical professionals by training — to talk about how the government shutdown is affecting medical research. J. Scott Applewhite/AP
With little progress being made to resolve the government shutdown, House Republicans have decided on a piecemeal strategy.
They have been voting to reopen small pieces of the government — for example, on Wednesday, they approved bills paying for the Federal Aviation Administration and for death benefits to the families of service members.
While the death benefits bill got unanimous support, most of these votes have split along party lines — and that has put politicians on both sides in some surprising positions.
At times, it feels like the Capitol has fallen into an alternate universe, where Democrats vote against some of their favorite programs, and Republicans cheer for fully funding parts of the government they have typically argued need a trim.
Take the program to provide food and baby formula to low-income women, infants and children, known as WIC.
Back in July, Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King called the U.S. a "cradle-to-grave welfare state," arguing on the House floor that programs like food stamps and WIC "bribe people to leave the workforce and go on the welfare rolls." Not exactly an endorsement.
But when it came time last Friday to vote to fully fund the WIC program through December, King joined 221 of his fellow Republicans and voted yes.
"I vote for it because I do believe in it," he said. "And I'd like to fix it some places, I'd like to amend it — we're not going to do it in this environment. That's why."
Meanwhile, the vast majority of Democrats voted against short-term funding for the WIC program.
White House spokesman Jay Carney says these bills are just gimmicks.
"The way to fix all these problems is not to notice one in the press and then fix it — a day, a week, two weeks or a month after people have been suffering the consequences of shutdown," he says. "The way to do it is to open the government."
The same thing happened Tuesday with a bill to fund Head Start preschools.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, spoke on the floor against the bill.
"It is another important federal program that Republicans are claiming to support today in full defiance of their previous voting record," she said.
The spending plan passed by House Republicans earlier this year calls for a nearly 20 percent cut to the part of the federal budget that includes Head Start. The Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers, rubbed in DeLauro's apparent role reversal.
"She turns around and tells us she's going to vote against funding for the Head Start program. That's a puzzle to me," Rogers said.
These are puzzling times, like something out of Alice in Wonderland or The Twilight Zone.
Republicans have often complained that federal workers are overpaid with benefits that are too generous. But they voted unanimously along with Democrats to give back pay to workers furloughed by the shutdown.
Now these votes have started showing up in political ads — including a Web ad out Wednesday from the National Republican Congressional Committee that targets vulnerable Democrats.
It's not clear whether this was the goal all along, or just an added benefit of a strategy that has the House members voting to fund programs essentially whenever they're asked about them.
Take Majority Leader Eric Cantor's exchange with a television reporter at a news conference last week about a bill to reopen national parks and monuments. When Cantor was asked why the Republicans were choosing monuments over a program like Head Start, he responded: "That is coming as well, OK? We are going to take every issue that is out there that we have agreement on and put it on the floor, and we will pass the funding bills to go to the Senate."
The next day, Cantor was at a news conference, surrounded by colleagues in lab coats, talking about funding for research at the National Institutes of Health. He promised more bills.
And they do keep coming, forcing often uncomfortable votes on both sides of the aisle.