Photographers take pictures of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) as he appears before reporters after a Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 15, 2013.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

‘Throw me a bone’ caucus emerges


House Republicans are dying for John Boehner to throw them a bone.

A number of Republicans admit they’ve given up on defunding Obamacare, but they don’t want to go home to their districts and admit that they came away with nothing.

“There’s a lot of people who feel like they want to have some principle that they can go back to their constituents and say, we fought for this, and we ended up getting something else at least,” said Rep. Chris Stewart, a freshmen Republican from Utah. 

People have been OK with where we’ve been as long as we can show some forward progress. If it’s all for naught, it can be pretty frustrating,” added Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan.

House Republicans are expected to vote on a deal proposed by John Boehner on Tuesday night. The proposal fund hte government and raise the debt ceiling temporarily, but it would also take away the government employer subsidy to help Congress, cabinet officials and Hill staff purchase health insurance on the “Obamacare” exchanges. It would also limit Treasury’s ability to move money around. It’s unclear whether it’ll pass with Republican votes alone. And Democrats have called it a non-starter.

The House GOP conference meeting Tuesday started auspiciously enough: Members opened by singing “Amazing Grace” all together. The leadership explained they would spurn the Senate’s bipartisan deal for one of their own. But when the House’s proposal was unveiled—a plan that largely mirrored the Senate’s plan to hike the debt ceiling and open the government, but with additional changes to Obamacare—dissatisfied conservatives immediately piped up. 

“If you have these principles that you believe, you have to keep fighting for it,” said Stewart, who was among the members who pushed for the leadership to insert a conscience clause that would allow employers to refuse to cover birth control on religious grounds. “They believe it’s a principle—that religious freedom is so important that american people respect.”

When a reporter pointed out that religious objections were never at the heart of the fight, Stewart pushed back. “We’ve been fighting for that from the very beginning,” he said, while he admitted the issues “hasn’t been key to some of the proposals.”

By midday Tuesday, the House GOP plan was openly in flux as leadership rushed to rewrite the plan to satisfy enough conservatives to ensure its passage.

“It obviously helps that you get something – and something substantive,” says Huizenga. “I think the journey has been worth it.” He cited a delay of the medical device tax that Boehner had put in his original proposal as one concession worth supporting. But by Tuesday afternoon, that had already been taken out. 

Restive conservatives also argued their constituents back at home were beginning to understand what their shutdown fight was really about—national polls be damned. “The phone calls into my office have shifted,” says Huizenga

“The message has been breaking through to swing voters, and the discomfort and unhappiness on the new health care law within swing voters is exploding,” says Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona, referring to a poll conducted in his state that ran counter to some of the national findings. 

Some House Republicans said they recognized the dilemma that Boehner was in, rushing to put together a House proposal that might feasibly pass before the Senate acted on theirs. But that hasn’t stopped them from trying to squeeze what they can out of the House GOP leadership as the clock ticks down. 

“What the Speaker’s trying to do is balance what’s possible with what people want, and they don’t match up sometimes,” says Stewart. When asked whether the two poles would meet in time to pass a deal, the Utah Republican simply replied: “Let’s say they’re getting closer—a little bit.” 

'Throw me a bone' caucus emerges