Matt Rourke/AP

Bill Clinton: House Republicans 'Don't Want to Negotiate' Over Funding the Government

The former president says that the House Republican position is 'almost spiteful,' and that the shutdown debates of the mid-1990s were 'extremely minor' in comparison. By Dustin Volz

Former President Clinton steadfastly defended President Obama and Senate Democrats Sunday morning on their position in the debt-ceiling fight and criticized House Republicans for not being interested in real budget negotiations.

"This is the House Republicans and tea party saying, 'We don't want to negotiate with Democrats,' " Clinton told This Week's George Stephanopoulos."They're mad because they don't want to negotiate."

Clinton defended Obama's position while calling the House Republican position "almost spiteful."

"If I were the president, I wouldn't negotiate over these draconian cuts that are gonna take food off the table of low-income working people, while they leave all the agricultural subsidies in for high-income farmers and everything else," Clinton said. "I think it's chilling. It seems almost spiteful."

Clinton is no stranger to government shutdowns. During his mid-'90s skirmishes with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Clinton vetoed a continuing resolution sent to his desk by the GOP-led Congress that would have raised Medicare premiums and lessened environmental regulations. The November 1995 shutdown lasted five days before Clinton brokered an agreement with Gingrich that funded the government at 75 percent while budget negotiations continued for several weeks.

[Click here for Defense One's complete coverage of the shutdown.]

Less than a month later, though, the government closed its doors for another 21 days, as Gingrich and other Republican leaders insisted that the White House pass a seven-year plan that balanced the budget off of Congressional Budget Office projections rather than slightly more optimistic projections outlined by the Office of Management and Budget. Republicans eventually passed legislation to reopen the government, while Clinton relented and submitted a balanced budget plan based on CBO numbers.

Clinton's approval ratings were subject to some volatility during and after the shutdowns. His numbers fell about 10 percent during the second shutdown, but it ticked up to 53 percent in a Gallup Poll shortly after the dust settled.

Clinton was also quick to say the shutdown negotiations he presided over were very different than the current fights facing Obama.

"The negotiations we had were extremely minor," Clinton said. "The economy was growing and the deficit was going down. They didn't ask for the store."

Clinton dismissed any notion that Obama's signature health care bill was in any way a realistic bargaining chip for the budget fights.

"You can't negotiate over that," Clinton said. "And I think he's right not to."