As Day 2 of the government shutdown gets underway, the congressional Republicans who thought this would be a good idea find themselves lacking something important: a plan.
Late yesterday, House GOP leaders decided they’d try piecemeal funding – a Ted Cruz strategy built around “mini CRs” – providing funds to the parts of the government Republicans kind of like, while leaving everything else shut down. Democrats balked, but the House voted on the idea last night anyway. As expected, it failed, but Republicans intend to bring the same measure to the floor today, because … well, they don’t really have anything else to do.
There is, of course, the Senate bill, which is a center-right proposal embraced by Senate Democrats and the White House, and which enjoys bipartisan support in the House. If House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) brought it to the floor for a vote, it would very likely pass and the shutdown would be over.
So why doesn’t the flailing Speaker just end this misery that enjoys the support of a Senate majority, a House majority, and President Obama? Because as Robert Costa reported last night, Boehner would prefer to see the shutdown continue.
Based on my latest conversations with insiders, their plan isn’t to eventually whip Republicans toward a clean CR and back down after a few days of messaging the shutdown, as some have believed; it’s to keep fighting, and, in the process, preserve the House GOP’s fragile unity – and maybe, if they’re lucky, win a concession from Senate majority leader Harry Reid.
But that unity, more than anything, is critical for Boehner, especially as the debt limit nears. Per his allies, his fear is, if he brings up a clean CR, he’d be seen as conceding to Reid, who’s seen as the villain of villains within the House GOP…. In the press, he’d likely be cheered for a profile in courage; within the House, the decision would be seen by his critics on the right as a betrayal of the highest order. There is nothing they detest more than the idea of caving, and Boehner knows that.
This is critically important. Boehner and the House Republican leadership have had weeks to come up with a coherent strategy, and now that they’ve shut down the government, this is what they’ve up with: wait for Democrats to start taking health care benefits away from Americans because Republicans say so. That’s the plan.
Boehner could pass a center-right plan that enjoys bipartisan support – a plan the Speaker himself embraced just a few weeks ago – but GOP extremists don’t like “the idea of caving,” so the inept and politically impotent Speaker is left to rummage through his pile of gimmicks and stunts.