Just thinking out loud about what’s next now that Boehner and Cantor have punted to McConnell and Cruz in the Senate. Procedure wonks are invited to correct me, but unless I’m mistaken, there are two next steps once the House gets done passing a continuing resolution that defunds O-Care. First, Reid may bring the House bill to a vote in the Senate. He doesn’t have to, I think, but he might want to do so in order to advertise that it doesn’t have majority support there. Question one: How will Senate Republicans who oppose shutting down the government vote on that? Last time I checked, that’s most of the caucus — even fiscal conservatives like Tom Coburn, who reject the “defund” movement because they think it’ll surely result in a standoff with the Democrats and a destructive shutdown on which the GOP will ultimately cave. But that doesn’t mean Coburn et al. have to vote against the House bill. They could vote for it, if only as a symbolic rejection of ObamaCare, knowing that the bill will be killed by Democrats along party lines. If that’s what happens, then the bill loses 45/55.

The next step after that is unclear right now. Boehner and Cantor could try to pass a new CR in the House that funds ObamaCare while reassuring conservatives that they’ll try again on defunding during the debt-ceiling fight. Or Reid could try to pass a new CR along those same lines in the Senate. (A Twitter pal notes that bills related to revenue are supposed to originate in the House, but I believe the usual workaround for that is simply stripping the content from a House bill that’s already reached the Senate and substituting the text of a Senate CR.) Question two: How do Senate Republicans vote on that one? Maybe Coburn, McCain, and a few other “defund” skeptics decide to bite the bullet and vote with Reid, having already cast a symbolic vote against ObamaCare by supporting the first House CR. But that won’t solve their political problem with conservatives. Righties will attack them, not without reason, for destroying the House’s leverage ahead of a shutdown by siding with Reid, who’ll crow that even Senate Republicans think the House is nuts. It’s impossible to imagine the “defunders” winning a PR war when the White House is armed with a talking point like that. Which means maybe Coburn et al. will have no choice but to vote no on Reid’s CR too, even though they’d surely support the same bill if it was already approved by the House. That means Reid CR will be filibustered, 55/45, leaving the Senate deadlocked and nothing on Obama’s desk.

At that point, with odds of a shutdown rising, the pressure from Boehner and Cantor on Republicans to pass a clean CR through the House and focus on the debt ceiling would be intense. (“What the conservatives don’t understand is that a shutdown is terrible for Republicans, but default is terrible for everyone.”) That’s what the Senate Republican “defund” skeptics are waiting for: Once the House caves on funding O-Care, they’ll be the lightning rod for conservative upset, not the Senate. Then the Senate GOP can vote en masse for the House’s CR, with only the “defund” true believers like Cruz, Paul, and Lee voting no on principle. That’s how I think this is going to play out, but like I say, I’m willing to be corrected.

Here’s McCain on CNN this morning sounding very mavericky indeed about the prospects of a shutdown. You won’t be surprised to learn that Jeff Flake, who’s stood shoulder to shoulder with McCain on all sorts of policies since joining the Senate this year, agrees with him. Skip to 5:40 for the key bit. Will Maverick vote to block the “defund” crowd before he absolutely has to?

Update: I tweaked the headline a tiny bit for clarity.