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GOP looks to budget negotiations

With the federal government open and the nation's borrowing limits increased, West Virginia's Republican representatives in Congress said they hope true budget negotiations can begin.

All five of West Virginia's national lawmakers -- including Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley, R-W.Va. -- supported the late-night compromise Wednesday that sent federal employees back to work Thursday and increased the amount of money the government can borrow.

The measure funds the government through Jan.15 and increases the borrowing amount so the country won't hit its debt limit until Feb. 7.

Neither said the vote signifies a change in their positions about the debt ceiling, long-term government financing or the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

But both are playing a slightly different tune now that the measure has come and gone.

Capito said Thursday she never supported a shutdown, pointing to several public statements where she condemned the partial closure. But she did admit she never gave a clear answer during the 16-day shutdown as to whether she would support the "clean" funding measure -- one that didn't include policy amendments -- passed by the Senate.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, never brought the measure to the floor, so no one had to vote on the bill. But "behind closed doors," Capito was pushing for the government to re-open, she said.

Factions among House Republicans didn't make that easy.

"I think it's pretty obvious that there are certain segments of the party that are unwilling to make concessions," Capito said.

"And you know, we have to work with the Senate, we have to work with the president. That's the reality of where we are. I think that's a challenge for the speaker, and I think he's up for the challenge."

For a time, it looked like McKinley might be one of those Republicans unwilling to give ground.

On the eve of the shutdown, McKinley issued a statement criticizing the president and the Senate for not delaying the mandate. A little more than a week into the shutdown, he said he wouldn't support a "clean" measure -- one that funded the government with other policy amendments.

He blamed the president and the Senate again for not talking with the House about fixing "the problems with Obamacare."

The measure he voted for that passed Wednesday makes little change to the Affordable Care Act.

"I didn't move one iota off my principles," McKinley said Thursday in a phone interview.

"I just wanted to change my tactics because the tactic wasn't working. We've got to find a different way to go about it."

On Thursday, McKinley said the overall debate was "never about Obamacare" and Republicans knew they weren't going to defund or repeal the law.

"I realize I don't have the votes. That may be a principle, but the tactics, we can't do it," McKinley said.

Still, McKinley said Republicans had to "drive a stake" into the metaphorical political ground, to show their displeasure with not only the health care law but the perceived unwillingness of Democrats to discuss long-term financial solutions.

Changing the Affordable Care Act is the vehicle for the GOP's true desire, McKinley said: economic growth.

"Some people were confusing principle with tactics," McKinley said. "The principle is we've got to get spending under control.

"The tactics were, were we using the right vehicle to fight that fight." 

The tactic didn't work. But McKinley thinks Republicans were able to keep the Affordable Care Act in the national spotlight and force Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to come to the negotiating table.

The measure does require budget negotiations. It also doesn't push back the debt ceiling for a year or eliminate cuts implemented under the "sequester," something McKinley said Democrats desperately wanted.

Nobody won during the shutdown and debt ceiling showdown, McKinley said, but he thinks these two measures show Republicans didn't lose. The GOP agreed to increase the debt limit and pass a funding bill without any policy amendments; now the Senate and the president need to negotiate, McKinley said.

"I think the spotlight, hopefully, is now going to switch to the president and Senate as to whether or not they were actually going to do what they said they were going to do." McKinley said.

"They said, 'If you pass this, we'll negotiate.' Now, let's see what they do."

If Democrats and the president "stonewall" Republicans, McKinley thinks there could be another problem once the funding deadline comes back around in January.

Capito said it was her "great hope" the government wouldn't again shut down, and she would push against such a move if it arose. While her office might have received calls before the partial shutdown in favor of the move, West Virginians don't support a shutdown now, she said.

Republicans might not have the same support for that fight in the future: National polls show approval ratings for Congress and the president are down, but none more so than for the GOP.

McKinley admitted that could be a problem for the party, but finding a solution falls on everyone's shoulders.

Capito agreed.

"I really don't think it's a blip in history," Capito said, referencing the last 16 days.

"I think it's a pivotal point where the country is realizing that you have to overcome the politics to get good policy."

Both said a conference committee created to discuss the budget is a step in the right direction. Whether it can come up with any meaningful solutions by its unofficial Dec. 13 deadline could be key to preventing another funding and debt ceiling showdown.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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