Just 24 hours ago, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the House Republican leadership team thought they'd come up with a credible plan to prevent a government shutdown. It was clearly a little convoluted, but the blueprint seemed likely to get Congress out of a jam of its own making.
Part One of the plan would include a House vote this week on a symbolic, far-right bill to undo President Obama's new immigration policy. This is designed to make conservatives feel better, despite being a hollow gesture. Part Two would be a second vote next week on a spending bill that would fund nearly all of the federal government through the end of the fiscal year in September. And Part Three of the plan would isolate funding for the Department of Homeland Security, funding the agency for only a few months, opening the door to a new fight in early 2015.
The point is to thread a ridiculous needle -- preventing a shutdown, placating angry, right-wing House members, and approving a measure acceptable to a Democratic-led Senate. (The whole package has become known as the "CRomnibus," combining the omnibus spending bill with a continuing resolution, or "CR.")
But as the afternoon progressed yesterday, it became clear that the right is not satisfied. Politico reported
The "Hell No" caucus is once again causing headaches for Republican leadership. A cadre of the House's most conservative members will meet Wednesday morning at the Capitol Hill Club for Rep. Steve King's regular breakfast to discuss lame duck legislation. Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who often serves as a de facto spokesperson for congressional hardliners, is expected to attend. These hardline Republicans are already expressing their dissatisfaction with the plan outlined by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) during a closed door meeting Tuesday morning.... These conservatives estimate the number of Republican "no" votes near 30 to 40 -- enough to derail a vote on the government funding bill if Democrats oppose the measure.
To be sure, 30 to 40 votes may not sound like much. Indeed, it suggests most House Republicans are willing to go along with the GOP leadership's plan.
But let's not forget something Boehner said in September
: "On any given day, 16 of my members decide they're going to go this way, and all of the sudden, I have nothing. You might notice I have a few knuckleheads in my conference."
In other words, when 30 to 40 House Republicans balk at their own party's plan, there's a problem.
The question then becomes what the House GOP intends to do about this problem. There are effectively three choices: keep twisting arms in the hopes of finding the votes, make the bill even more conservative to bring those far-right members back into the fold, or turn to Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats to pass the bill without right-wing backing.
The first option will be difficult, especially with groups like Heritage Action, which quarterbacked last year's government shutdown, voicing its opposition
to Boehner's proposed solution. The second option would keep House Republicans united, but would almost certainly alienate the Democratic White House and Senate, making a shutdown almost inevitable.
And the third option would be pretty easy, though House Democrats aren't exactly in the mood
to help House Republicans get out of a bind of their own making.
Asked if leaders are too "gun shy" about a government shutdown, [Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho)] was clear. "I think they are and I don't understand why," he said. "We had a shutdown a year ago, and we just got the biggest majority we've ever had in the House since 1928, and one of the largest majorities we've ever had in the Senate. So I don't understand their reasoning for taking anything off the table."
Current funding runs out a week from tomorrow. Watch this space.