Boehner: No gov't shutdown -- as long as Senate does their job

The country has had a trillion-dollar hole in its budgets for five straight budget years.  We’ve added over $6 trillion in debt in the last four years, and now have $16 trillion in national debt, soon to hit $17 trillion and beyond.  What did NBC’s David Gregory want John Boehner to answer on yesterday’s Meet the Press?  Whether or not it was appropriate for the Senate to “get off its ass” and do something about the crisis.  No, really:

Fortunately, Boehner had a couple of other issues on his mind.  Despite the concerns over the March 27th expiration of the current continuing resolution funding the government, Boehner insists he doesn’t want a government shutdown.  In fact, the House will pass a new CR this week to take the government to the end of the budget cycle, Boehner pledged, which means there won’t be a government shutdown at all — unless the Senate doesn’t get off its ass and pass its own CR:

Boehner told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview that aired Sunday the House will vote this week to keep the federal government operating through September, when the fiscal year ends, and avoid a potentially politically damaging shutdown.

The move would be the second time since the election that Boehner has avoided a fight, desired by some House conservatives, in order to keep the GOP from possible blame. He led House Republicans to raise the debt ceiling in January to fend off a repeat of the 2011 conflict that led to the sequester.

It also avoids a repeat of the 1995 government shutdown engineered by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, which was widely seen as a disaster for House Republicans.

“The president this morning agreed that we should not have any talk of a government shutdown,” Boehner said in the interview taped Friday. “So I’m hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to work through this.”

Republicans largely want to keep the sequester in place, but they do want to fix some of the problems created at Defense last week.  The new CR will include a provision that restores $7 billion in funding for specific Pentagon accounts:

House Republicans are proposing this week to restore upward of $7 billion to operations and maintenance accounts for the four military services hit hard by the automatic cuts that went into effect Friday night.

That’s the bottom line driving a hybrid spending bill to be unveiled Monday and intended to replace the stopgap continuing resolution or CR due to expire March 27.

The measure will keep in place the overall spending reduction known as the sequester ordered Friday. But in the case of the Defense Department, it substitutes an updated full-year budget that shifts money to address the GOP’s great Achilles’ heel: the serious danger to military readiness if the standoff with President Barack Obama drags on for months.

Republicans know they can’t sustain a long fight without addressing this vulnerability, but the CR is also a political tinderbox that could blow up despite all sides now insisting that they want to avoid a government shutdown.

How tricky will that tinderbox be? Democrats who spent the last two weeks decrying the sequester’s damage to military readiness will almost certainly turn around and claim this as proof that the GOP cares more about defense contractors than poor people.  Unfortunately, that may not help them much, especially after all the overheated demagoguery collapses around their ears this week when the sequester doesn’t bring an end to the world as we know it.  They can huff and puff, but they demolished their own credibility in a series of increasingly desperate falsehoods that crescendoed into a media backlash late last week.

Boehner’s strategy aims to force the Senate into finally getting back to normal order legislating.  This CR sends the signal that Boehner isn’t going to White House têtes-aux-têtes any longer on budget matters.  He wants conference committees to resolve these issues, and the White House out of the middle.  We’ll see if Reid still fights normal order or finally begins to do his job and produce budgets.