Eleven House Republican freshmen wrote a letter to their colleagues yesterday, urging them not to shut down the government next week. “[W]e were elected by our constituent’s to be principled, pragmatic leaders,” their letter said.
Practically speaking, however, a letter from 11 freshmen doesn’t amount to much, especially against a 42-member House Freedom Caucus, which is itching for a fight.
So, what happens now? Current funding expires on Wednesday, which is now just six days away. With this deadline looming, one might assume that lawmakers are scrambling, running from office to office, holding frantic meetings looking for a solution to resolve this mess. But conditions on the Hill aren’t nearly that frantic. GOP leaders have an outline of a plan, though no one seems to have any idea whether the plan will work.
TPM sketched out what to expect, starting this afternoon.
Thursday, after the Pope’s address, the Senate will vote on a short-term spending bill that defunds Planned Parenthood. That bill is expected to be filibustered by Democrats, and thus “prove” to conservative hardliners that blocking Planned Parenthood’s funding is, on a practical level, impossible. At least that’s the theory.Then, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] will bring forward a “clean” continuing resolution, which would keep the government open for a few months – likely through Dec. 11 – with spending being maintained at essentially its current levels, including the funding for Planned Parenthood. That measure could be passed late this week, or early in the next week, giving the House a few days at most to pass the same legislation itself.
McConnell’s strategy is sound. He’ll bring up the bill far-right lawmakers want – a stop-gap spending measure that scraps Planned Parenthood funding – and then watch it die. McConnell will point to the result and telling his party’s hardliners, “See? Your bill can’t pass.”
He’ll then bring up a clean stop-gap bill, which is very likely pass, and which would then go to the House with time to avoid a shutdown.
How much time is unclear. In theory, the Senate could vote on the two options in rapid succession, moving the process along quickly, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has threatened to slow down the process, forcing a vote on the second, clean bill over the weekend, which would leave the House with a much tighter calendar if a shutdown is to be avoided.
How things will shake out in the lower chamber, however, is harder to predict. There are, as of today, 247 House Republicans. It takes 218 to pass a bill. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is sincere in his hopes of avoiding a shutdown, but can he keep his members together? By most fair measures, the odds are not in his favor – if 30 or more GOP lawmakers oppose Boehner’s preferred approach, he won’t have the votes necessary for passage, and there’s ample evidence that there are more than 30 Republicans opposed to a clean bill.
The Speaker could, of course, turn to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for Democratic votes, but (a) Pelosi would likely want something in return for saving the Speaker’s skin; and (b) if Boehner relied on Dems to fund Planned Parenthood, it would fuel the right-wing campaign who are plotting a coup to oust him as Speaker.
Complicating matters, if Boehner made concessions to House Democrats, he might lose additional Republican votes, making the lift that much heavier.
There’s increasing chatter that Boehner, reading the writing on the wall, will let the far-right members have their shutdown, but the Speaker will only allow it to continue for a few days before reaching out to Pelosi for votes. As this strategy goes, the shutdown will give Boehner some cover to work with Dems in ways he can’t operate now.
My best guess: I’d say the odds of a shutdown are about 80%. Watch this space.
Postscript: Note, all of this drama is over a temporary spending bill that would keep the government’s lights on until early-to-mid December. At that point, a new shutdown deadline would emerge and the crisis would start anew. It’s become a new normal in a Republican Congress, but no one should get used to political conditions that should be considered scandalous.
Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this report.