Boehner’s shutdown-avoidance plan off to a rough start

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) rallies anti-healthcare activists in DC yesterday.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) rallies anti-healthcare activists in DC yesterday.
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In just two weeks, the federal government will exhaust its current budget and shut down unless Congress approves a temporary spending measure called a “continuing resolution.” The congressional Republican leadership really hopes to avoid a government shutdown, fearing it would be politically disastrous, and hopes to sell GOP lawmakers on an alternative scheme.

The sales job began yesterday, and at this point, there’s far more Republican support for intervention in Syria.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) unveiled a convoluted plan to his members yesterday: the House would approve a spending measure, including the ridiculous sequestration cuts, to prevent a shutdown. Tacked on would be the proposal the far-right demands – defunding the Affordable Care Act – as an easily removed appendage. The Senate would then remove the appendage, pass the continuing resolution, and Congress could start focusing on the debt-ceiling crisis.

In other words, it’d be a nice little example of political theater. Republicans would get neither the shutdown nor the Obamacare defunding they want, but they could go through the motions in such a way as to make right-wing egos feel better.

The plan landed yesterday with a thud.

House Republican leaders were struggling Tuesday to sell skeptical conservatives on their plan to force the Senate to vote on defunding ObamaCare before enacting a critical measure to keep the government funded.

The conservative groups Club for Growth, Heritage Action and FreedomWorks announced their opposition to the plan within hours of its unveiling at a closed-doors Republican meeting.

Separately, some conservative lawmakers at a Tea Party rally outside the Capitol denounced the idea as a “gimmick” that stopped short of defunding President Obama’s healthcare law.

The complaint has the benefit of being true – Boehner’s plan is a gimmick. But in this case, it’s a gimmick the House GOP leadership will beg its members to vote for.

This is likely to be tricky, though the Speaker and his leadership team have a new talking point.

For many Republican lawmakers, the theater is unsatisfying. They don’t want to pretend to defund the federal health care law; they want to actually defund the health care law. If they vote for Boehner’s budget plan, it’s a copout.

GOP leaders could reach out to Democrats to help pass the spending measure and avoid the shutdown, but Dems aren’t going for this plan, either – not only do they have no intention of supporting a continuing resolution that pretends to defund the Affordable Care Act, but Democrats also reject the sequestration-level spending cuts that are hurting the country by design.

And so Boehner is, for now, telling his members that if they back him up on the stopgap spending bill this month, he’ll tell the White House that Democrats have to defund Obamacare or Republicans won’t raise the debt ceiling next month.

The GOP would effectively be trading one hostage for another, though the latter would cause a much more painful crisis and risk far more harm to the United States and the world.

How will this play out? No one can say with any confidence, but government funding runs out in 19 days and the debt ceiling has to be raised within the next five weeks.

Tick tock.