House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) thought he'd put together a bill that could prevent a government shutdown: the right would get to keep in place the sequestration cuts they sometimes pretend not to like, but they'd get only a symbolic vote to defund the Affordable Care Act. House Republicans quickly responded that this isn't nearly good enough for them.
Indeed, in recent days, it's quickly become apparent that nothing will satisfy the nihilist wing of the House GOP -- short of literally everything they want, when they want it -- which leaves Republican leaders in the untenable position of looking across the aisle.
They're virtually an afterthought in the battle to keep the government open into October, but House Democrats are more than willing to work with Republicans to cut a deal.As long as it costs the GOP something.House GOP leadership's decision last week to back away from a continuing resolution from the floor amid Republican opposition raises the possibility that Speaker John Boehner might ultimately have to call on Democrats to avoid a government shutdown. He has relied on the minority before, most notably during the fiscal cliff deal that raised taxes on top earners earlier this year.But Democrats aren't willing to just go along.
Looking ahead, Boehner no doubt sees reliance on Democrats to avoid a government shutdown as a last resort, only to be considered if everything else fails. But the fact is, everything else is already failing; Boehner hasn't identified a Plan B; and time is running out.
And unlike so many House Republicans, House Democrats are actually open to negotiation. If you're John Boehner and you're poised to sit down to work out a deal to avoid a government shutdown, who would you rather see sitting across the table, Tim Huelskamp or Nancy Pelosi? Boehner may agree with the former, but he can actually negotiate with the latter.
That said, House Dems are not without a wish list of their own.
Far-right Republicans want it all, including defunding the federal health care law and sequestration. Boehner knows this will lead to a shutdown that he and his party will be held responsible for.
So this likely leads GOP leaders to wonder: what exactly would Democrats seek in exchange for cooperation?
The answer is not yet obvious, in large part because the outreach to House Dems hasn't even begun (yet), but the House minority has a few ideas. For example, some have suggested adding the Senate immigration reform bill to the continuing resolution as a way to earn Democratic support.
GOP leaders would likely balk, but there's a more straightforward Democratic alternative.
Democrats will be pushing an alternative Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) filed last week. His bill would undo the sequester and set spending at $1.058 billion. It does so by eliminating a number of unpopular tax credits, a rallying cry Democrats feel is a winner compared with Republican calls for cuts.House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is pushing a hard line: Democrats won't back any form of a CR that keeps spending at sequester levels.
This, of course, has the benefit of making sense. Sequestration is, as designed, hurting the country. Democrats would practically be doing Republicans a favor by pitching, "Drop the Obamacare nonsense, get rid of the sequester you claim not to like, and we can pass a bipartisan spending bill and move on."
Another possibility that's been rumored is perhaps more obvious: Democrats would demand that a debt-ceiling increase be included in the spending measure to eliminate two crises at once.
The larger point, however, is that Democrats are prepared to help Boehner prevent a shutdown, but they're not willing to do so for free.