Overnight, Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid have apparently finalized a deal, ABC’s Jon Karl reports from Capitol Hill, after the collapse of a final push from Speaker John Boehner to float a House alternative. The pact would extend both the debt ceiling and government operations for “a few months,” presumably after the first of the year, while Congress debates the rest of the FY2014 budget. But is there enough time on the legislative calendar to pass it in time for tomorrow’s deadline?
NBC reported earlier today that the agreement is all but complete. McConnell’s office said it was in the hands of “the nerds”:
Key Senate leaders have resumed their on-again off-again talks after putting the negotiations on ice early Tuesday. By late Tuesday, ongoing talks between Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared to be down to the dotting of I’s and the crossing of T’s. “The nerds have to work,” McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said, referring to legislative staffers that are now writing the details. But, while McConnell and Reid will be armed with decades of experience and a keen understanding of procedure, Senate rules could still allow Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz or other dissenters to slow the consideration of the bill until after the Thursday deadline.
That’s the worry from the leadership point of view, but would Lee or Cruz bother? The collapse of the House GOP effort last night means that there won’t be an alternative to the Senate bill at all, and certainly not one in time to head off a big public-relations nightmare for the caucus rebels. This is almost certainly going to be the least-bad solution, and both can use the extra time it affords to keep fighting for their own priorities. I’d be surprised if a call for unanimous consent gets denied today.
The Wall Street Journal says enough is enough, and it’s time to end the parade of bumbling:
We should add that House Republicans also blundered in refusing to accept the Senate proposal to delay a reinsurance tax of about $60 a year per insured person. Democrats originally passed this tax to help float ObamaCare’s exchanges. Insurers pay the per capita fee, which they can pass along to consumers in higher premiums, and the fee goes to a fund that then pays back the insurers if they end up with a mix of patients with higher than average claims.
House Republicans objected to the delay in the tax because unions supported the delay for their own insurance plans, but that was short-sighted. Senate Democrats were willing to delay the tax for a year to please labor and in return agree to better income verification for Americans who apply for ObamaCare subsidies. So out of political pique, House Republicans opposed two ways to make ObamaCare less destructive. Senate Republicans should try to retain it in their compromise.
This is the quality of thinking—or lack thereof—that has afflicted many GOP conservatives from the beginning of this budget showdown. They picked a goal they couldn’t achieve in trying to defund ObamaCare from one House of Congress, and then they picked a means they couldn’t sustain politically by pursuing a long government shutdown and threatening to blow through the debt limit. …
The Beltway budget melodrama rolls on to its predictable and dreary end, with both sides now split over increasingly small differences. None of this is worth a partial government shutdown, much less the risk of a debt default, and both sides are looking like losers. Let’s get it over with.
With the ObamaCare defunding measures a long-lost issue, there’s no particular reason to insist on a deadline of today to deal with all of the other budget problems that Republicans tried to substitute for their original defunding-strategy goal. The best way to beat ObamaCare now is to make sure everyone has an unobstructed view of its implementation and costs.