House Republicans, perhaps tired after working for four days after a six-week absence, will wrap their work week today around noon, leaving just five more days in September in which the chamber will be in session. And as House members depart this afternoon, they'll leave increasing odds of a government shutdown in their wake.
Part of the problem is simply a matter of logistics: the government will run out of money on Sept. 30, and House leaders haven't left themselves much time to get their work done.
But just as important is the fact that Republican leaders have absolutely no idea how they intend to govern. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the GOP leadership team thought they'd worked out a viable solution, which House Republicans rejected less than a day after it was introduced. Party officials are looking for someone to blame.
It's not hard to find frustration with Heritage Action and the Club for Growth among senior Republicans, who believe the groups' demand that they include Obamacare defunding language on any spending bill keeping the government open will ultimately empower Democrats in a series of fall battles over spending. They believe it's part of a pattern of pushing untenable demands that have no chance of becoming law."Heritage Action and Club for Growth are slowly becoming irrelevant Neanderthals," one senior GOP aide said.
Neanderthals, of course, is a subjective term -- draw your own conclusions -- but characterizing the right-wing activist groups as "irrelevant" is plainly incorrect. The House Republican leadership spent weeks carefully crafting a plan to avoid a government shutdown; Boehner & Co. unveiled their scheme on Tuesday; and by Wednesday morning, Heritage Action and Club for Growth had convinced Boehner's caucus to reject Boehner's plan out of hand.
I can appreciate why the Speaker's office is frustrated, but which side of this equation sounds "irrelevant"?
Regardless, Republican leaders are left with an unsettling set of circumstances, which makes the odds of a government shutdown far more likely than they were 24 hours ago. Indeed, GOP lawmakers oppose their leaders' plan, and the leaders don't have a backup plan.
Consider just how brutal this is.
A clearly frustrated Boehner seemed to realize that he leads a conference where no plan is quite good enough. There are frequently about 30 Republicans who oppose leadership's carefully crafted plans -- just enough to mess things up. A reporter asked him whether he has a new idea to resolve the government funding fight. He laughed and said, "No.""Do you have an idea?" he asked the reporters. "They'll just shoot it down anyway."
That sounds terribly sad, though it also happens to be true. The party is out of control, and its most powerful leader has no power.
A significant, outcome-changing contingent within the House GOP caucus is driven by such irrational hatred of the Affordable Care Act that it won't accept anything short of everything. Party leaders realize this approach would trigger a shutdown that the public would blame on Republicans. But if Boehner crafted a far-right spending measure to make extremists happy, this would quickly be rejected by the Senate and White House, again leading to a shutdown that the public would blame on Republicans.
The best way out is for the Speaker to give up on the radical wing of his party and strike a deal with House Democrats by scrapping the destructive sequestration policy. The shutdown would be averted; the economy would get a boost (remember when Congress occasionally thought about the economy?); and the Speaker would win plaudits for bipartisan cooperation and governing.
This, of course, won't happen.
What's likely to be the way out is Boehner will promise the extremists that if they support his idea of a temporary spending measure, he'll hold the debt ceiling hostage over "defunding Obamacare." The right-wing will probably see this as good enough and the nation will spend the next five or six weeks dealing with yet another Republican-imposed crisis.
Buckle your seat belt.