It looked like there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel. The Senate would pass a “clean” spending bill – it’d be the same as the House version, except it wouldn’t “defund Obamacare” – over the weekend, at which point House Republicans would pass it, send it to the White House, and immediately initiate a debt-ceiling crisis in which the GOP would threaten to destroy the economy on purpose unless its demands are met.
So, that’s one crisis down, one to go? Not quite.
Speaker John A. Boehner signaled Thursday that the House would not simply vote on the version of the continuing resolution the Senate sends back, running up against a timeline that could suggest at least a temporary government shutdown.
Asked if he would now accept a “clean” CR from the Senate to avoid a government shutdown, the Ohio Republican was plain-spoken: “I do not see that happening.”
No, of course not. That’d be too easy.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Wait, Boehner won’t have time to play silly games before a shutdown. The deadline is Monday, so House Republicans will have to choose between passing the Senate bill and shutting down the government.”
And there’s certainly some truth to that. If the House spends Monday on a far-right alternative they like better, and then pass it, the lights will go out at midnight.
That said, there are also reports that House Republicans might also pass a short-term extension, keeping the status quo in place for “a week or so.” At that point, the dance can continue – the House will amend the Senate bill, add some far-right provisions, and once more tell the upper chamber to do things Republicans’ way or the government will shut down.
In other words, maybe the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.
Looking ahead, there are three other angles I’d encourage folks to keep in mind. First, I imagine GOP leaders find it annoying when people like me bring this up, but let’s not forget that just a few weeks ago, Boehner didn’t want any of this. He wanted an easy stopgap bill, which would end up funding the Affordable Care Act, and bypass the crisis. Now, with the inmates running the House’s asylum, the weak Speaker has ended up here. If he weren’t threatening Americans, it’d be tempting to feel sorry for the poor guy.
Second, even if Boehner and House Republicans accepted the “clean” Senate bill as-is, they’d still have reason to celebrate a win – the Senate bill, like the House version, leaves intact sequestration spending cuts that are doing real damage to the country. GOP officials could take this victory and move on, but they’ve decided it’s not good enough.
And finally, Noam Scheiber published an interesting take earlier, arguing that a shutdown would be preferable to a debt-ceiling breach, and we might want to root for the former happening so as to prevent the latter.
If Boehner resigns himself to a shutdown, on the other hand, suddenly the future looks manageable. After a few days of punishing political abuse, Boehner will be able to appear before his caucus, shrug his shoulders in his distinctive Boehnerian way, and bleat that he executed the strategy conservatives demanded, but that the country is overwhelmingly opposed to it, as are most Senate Republicans and almost every semi-legitimate right-wing pundit and media outlet.
Most of these people have already said that shutting down the government would be a mistake; they would presumably only grow more vocal in as Republicans’ poll numbers collapsed and they hemorrhaged blood all over Washington. Boehner will be able to point to the party’s extreme political isolation as a reason for calling off this round of jihad, in the same way he did during the payroll tax cut debate in late 2011 and the fiscal cliff debate in late 2012.
The demoralized conservatives will realize they’re out of moves—at least in this particular battle—allowing Boehner to raise the debt limit a few weeks later with little drama. There will be no debt default, and no conservative coup in the House.
I sincerely doubt the Speaker is capable of strategic thought at this level, but it’s a fun angle to consider.