Some problems are so complex and difficult, they’re nearly impossible to solve. Avoiding a government shutdown isn’t one of them.
After his far-right members vetoed his preferred solution, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) could have very easily reached out to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), put some modest enticements on the table, and picked up plenty of votes to approve a stop-gap spending measure. The whole thing could have been wrapped up in an afternoon, and the media would have cheered Boehner for constructive, bipartisan governing.
But that’s not what the laughably weak Speaker is inclined to do.
The threat of a government shutdown intensified Tuesday as House Republican leaders moved toward stripping funding from President Obama’s landmark health-care initiative and setting up a stalemate with the Democratic Senate.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had hoped to keep the government open past Sept. 30 with relatively little fuss. But roughly 40 conservatives revolted. After a strategy session Tuesday, Boehner and his leadership team were being pushed into a more confrontational strategy that would fund the government into the new fiscal year only if Democrats agreed to undermine Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
Here’s the plan: the Republican-led House intends to pass a temporary spending measure, called a continuing resolution (or “CR”), which defunds the Affordable Care Act. This isn’t what GOP leaders want, but the far-right extremists are calling the shots, and the followers are now leading the leaders. From there, the bill will go to the Democratic-led Senate, which, after it finishes laughing, will immediately reject the House bill
The upper chamber will then pass a more responsible measure, and send it back to the House, which will be faced with a straightforward, binary choice: pass the Senate version or shut down the government.
All of this, of course, will have to happen quite quickly, since the shutdown deadline is just 12 days away, and the House hasn’t even presented its bill yet, and House Republicans may take all of next week off. If Boehner were capable of just blowing off his nihilist wing and governing like a grown-up – or even just capable of persuading his own allies to follow his lead – this would be a simple process, but he’s really just the Speaker In Name Only.
Kevin Drum noted something yesterday that resonated with me:
It’s all pretty remarkable, isn’t it? Our government is deadlocked because Republicans control one half of one branch of the government. The tea party faction controls that half because it can prevent John Boehner from being re-elected Speaker if he crosses them. So we’ve somehow maneuvered ourselves into a place where 40 or 50 fanatic representatives can bring the entire government of the most powerful nation on Earth to a screeching halt. And somehow this seems … kind of normal. It hardly even raises an eyebrow anymore.
It’s easy to overlook given the circumstances, but on the surface, it would appear that the odds of a government shutdown are remote. Congressional Republican leaders, congressional Democratic leaders, the White House, and the American mainstream all want roughly the same thing, and none of them wants a shutdown. It’s hardly a recipe for a crisis.
But in this environment, we’re quickly discovering what happens when the House chamber’s leadership is weak and a significant contingent within the House majority’s caucus is bonkers.