Cantor’s lame attempt to appease the “defund” crowd having failed, the House leadership’s apparently decided to punt the whole thing to Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz in the Senate:
“On the CR, we know what the position of this conference is,” Boehner said, speaking before his colleagues. “Every member in this room is for defunding Obamacare while letting the rest of the government continue to operate. We’re going to put Obamacare defunding directly into the CR. And then we’re going to send it over to the Senate, so our conservative allies over there can continue the fight. That’s where the fight is.”
“On every major issue we’ve faced for the past two and a half years, the math has been the same: House Republicans either find a way together to get to 218, or the Democrats who run the rest of Washington essentially get everything they want,” he added, pressing for House GOP unity.
Cantor wanted to send two separate bills to the Senate, one a straightforward CR that would fund O-Care and the other a defunding measure. Obviously Reid would have passed the former and trashed the latter, leaving “defund” supporters with a symbolic House vote (like the 40+ that have preceded it) and nothing else. Fine, says Boehner, you win — we’ll send only one bill that defunds ObamaCare to the Senate. Mitch McConnell, who’s terrified of losing conservative support in the Kentucky primary, will have no choice but to push for it, but even a weakened Obama isn’t going to lose many Senate Democrats when he’s defending the party’s signature legislation.
Which is to say, Reid and the Democrats will kill the new defunding bill, and then … what? Robert Costa expects that, once the “defund” measure fails, Boehner and Cantor will ask House conservatives to pass a clean CR that funds O-Care and wait for the debt-ceiling fight to try again to defund (or delay) the law. Will the caucus go along, though? WaPo wonders:
One, these conservatives have already demonstrated a willingness to buck leadership. Two, many of them view this as the last best chance to derail Obamacare, given imminent implementation dates. Three, their biggest political concerns are primary challenges and the ire of conservative groups who also want to shred Obamacare at all costs. A “we-tried-once-so-now-let’s-back-away” posture won’t ease any of their political pressures.
What’s more, in order for a budget strategy to really be tested, it must be drawn out to the last moment. These negotiations have increasingly become blinking contests, and Defund Obamacare advocates aren’t going to be happy until Senate Democrats are faced with a choice between a government shutdown and defunding Obamacare. Anything else will be seen as a token effort.
Would Boehner and the GOP leadership tolerate even a brief shutdown, if only to prove to the base that they weren’t afraid to do it to try to get Senate Dems to compromise, or is this going to be another situation where the Hastert Rule goes out the window at the last minute and Boehner passes something with Democratic votes plus a few dozen Republican moderates? Paul Ryan’s reportedly already being lined up to convince his colleagues that a shutdown is a bad idea. “The fight is on the debt limit,” he told the caucus this morning, per Costa. And indeed, according to WaPo reporter Paul Kane, Cantor apparently expects that ObamaCare will still be a live issue by the time the battle over the debt ceiling begins:
Cantor finally unveils GOP's debt ceiling ask: delay O'care, tax reform, Keystone. Missing: entitlement reform.
— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) September 18, 2013
Giving up on entitlement reform, eh? Wonderful. Anywhere, there you go — a sneak preview of the next few weeks. The House will pass an essentially symbolic defund measure. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul will do their best to argue for passing it in the Senate and will fail, hopefully at least with Senate Republicans lined up behind them in opposition to Reid’s funding measure but maybe not. (McCain warned Republicans not to shut down the government this morning on CNN, but whether that means he’d vote for a CR that funded O-Care in the name of breaking a tea-party filibuster or would vote against it while waiting for the House to pass a clean CR themselves is unclear.) Then Boehner, Ryan, et al. will call for House Republicans to pass a CR that funds O-Care for the time being and to shift the defunding argument to the debt ceiling, where they’ll … surely stand on principle. Surely they won’t cave again for fear of the bad press the GOP would get for pursuing ObamaCare brinksmanship with America’s creditworthiness on the line. Right?
Read Philip Klein on tea partiers confusing tactical disagreements among Republicans with ideological ones.