This morning's House vote notwithstanding, we have a reasonably good sense of what's expected to happen in Washington over the next 10 days. But if Democrats were prepared to play a little hardball, the story could take an interesting turn or two.
House Republicans have sent over their stop-gap measure, which defunds the Affordable Care Act while keeping government spending at sequestration levels. Senate Democrats are expected to fix the Obamacare provision, leave the rest of the bill intact, and send it back with very little time left on the clock. At that point, House Republicans will either grudgingly pass the Senate version and renew their crusade during a debt-ceiling crisis, or shut down the government.
But Senate Democrats could, if they wanted to, pursue a better deal for themselves -- and for the country.
There are no rules binding the upper chamber to the House GOP's continuing resolution. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could just as easily throw the House bill in the trash or bring to the Senate floor, watch it fail, and then throw it in the trash. The focus for months has been on the provisions related to defunding the federal health care law, but there are other elements of the House bill the Senate majority could reject, too.
Indeed, there's a case to be made that Dems are missing an opportunity here.
Senate Democrats could, for example, push for a spending measure that scraps the House GOP's Obamacare plan and simultaneously fixes the sequestration policy that's hurting the country. No one can defend the sequester -- it was designed, after all, to impose mindless hardship nationwide -- so some Senate Republicans might even go along.
If the Senate minority balked and mounted a filibuster, they'd be responsible for a government shutdown. If Senate Republicans backed off, Democrats could pass a better bill -- better for economic growth, better for job creation, better for struggling families, better for law enforcement, better for medical research, better for firefighters, etc.
And at that point, House Republicans would face an interesting dilemma.
The House GOP obviously wouldn't be happy, but don't forget, they're not going to like the Senate version anyway since it will fund the Affordable Care Act. So if Republicans are going to be angry no matter what Senate Dems do, shouldn't Democrats pursue a bill they actually like? One that better serves the nation's interests?
Dems apparently aren't thinking this way, at least not yet, because they're looking for the path of least resistance. Don't rock the boat, don't pick unnecessary fights, don't risk blame if things go awry -- just fix the Obamacare language, prevent a shutdown, and live to see another day.
And while I can appreciate why the play-it-safe approach has appeal, I can't help but wonder if Democrats are failing to take full advantage of their position. Indeed, if a significant number of House Republicans are going to reject the Senate version anyway, and support from House Democrats will be necessary to get this bill across the finish line in time, the Senate could make it a whole lot easier to generate support from House Dems if they aimed a little higher in their ambitions.
There are 200 House Democrats. Faced with the prospect of a government shutdown that the GOP would be blamed for, there aren't 18 House Republicans who would vote for the Senate version that scraps a sequestration policy that Republicans say they don't like anyway? Of course there are.
GOP officials would howl, but (a) they're already howling; and (b) do Democrats really care? Should they? Were Republicans concerned about how Dems would react when they passed their ridiculous continuing resolution this morning?