This story moves quickly, doesn’t it? While the Senate prepares to vote on a big raise in the debt ceiling, with Harry Reid hoping to pressure Republicans to avoid a filibuster, John Boehner has a new card he’s pulling out of his sleeve, too:
With the government shutdown entering its second week and the Oct. 17 debt-limit deadline looming, House Republicans are poised to pursue a strategy that deals with each crisis separately, with an emphasis on agreeing to a short-term debt-ceiling deal as quickly as possible.
According to several high-ranking Republican aides, the House GOP leadership on Tuesday morning will inform lawmakers of its plan to continue passing individual funding bills to reopen specific areas of the federal government. On a separate track, the House majority will pursue a short-term extension of the debt limit in hopes of reaching an agreement with the Senate before next Thursday’s deadline.
The proposal being floated right now, according to aides, would extend the debt limit for roughly one month and include dollar-for-dollar spending cuts. To win over skeptical conservatives, the House proposal is also likely to include language that would instruct the Treasury Department to prioritize its payments in the event a debt-ceiling agreement is not reached.
The decision to work separately on resolving the government-funding and debt-ceiling fights will likely surprise Republican lawmakers, many of whom acknowledged last week that they seemed to be heading inexorably toward one big, comprehensive negotiation. But with so little time remaining before the Treasury Department’s Oct. 17 deadline, and the severe implications of a government default, the House leadership seems prepared to prioritize its crises.
This is actually quite a clever play — and one opened up by the White House, actually. Yesterday’s suggestion that they would accept a short-term debt-ceiling increase undercut Reid and signaled to Boehner that the GOP could exploit a rift between the Senate and the White House. Now Boehner can make the White House either bite the bullet and take a short-term deal, or reverse itself and shoulder more of the blame for the impasse.
That’s not the end of the benefit for Boehner, either. Reid wanted to pose his debt-ceiling bill as the only solution on the table, forcing Senate Republicans to either vote for “default” or vote to raise the debt ceiling. If the House sends this bill to the Senate, it provides plenty of political cover for Republicans to filibuster Reid’s bill — and increases pressure on Reid to either bring the House bill to the floor. As an alternative, Republicans could agree to allow the floor vote on Reid’s bill in exchange for a commitment to finally go to conference on the two companion bills to resolve the debt-ceiling standoff, at least.
We’ll see whether Reid has a play left himself. We still have more than a week to go, but with Senate rules, the votes will have to come sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, why hasn’t the White House released the Kracken?
When President Barack Obama laid out his strategy for the current debt-limit fight in a private meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this past summer, Reid stipulated one condition: No Joe Biden.
And while Biden attended the White House dog-and-pony show meeting last week with congressional leaders, Reid has effectively barred him from the backrooms, according to sources familiar with the situation.
The vice president’s disappearance has grown ever more noticeable as the government shutdown enters its eighth day with no resolution in sight and a debt limit crisis looms. Biden was once Democrats’ deal-maker-in-chief, designing budget pacts with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the summer of 2011 and New Year’s Eve 2013.
But Biden’s deals rubbed Democrats raw. He gave up too much, they said.
And for that, they have frozen him out — at least for now.
If we see Biden suddenly reappear, we’ll know that Reid’s out of moves, and that the White House is out of patience.