Whither the House on the Senate budget and debt bill?
Senators Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid are putting the finishing touches this morning on a bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. What's the House going to do?
Your guess is as good as anyone who claims to know what they're talking about. The fact is, there's a sizable number of Republicans in the House who won't vote for the Senate bill unless it includes some concessions on Obamacare.
Can Boehner get a majority of Republicans to back the Senate bill as it is currently written? Almost certainly not. It's why the speaker failed to bring two other measures to the floor yesterday. Hard line conservatives appear willing to blow through tomorrow's default deadline in order to wring Obamacare changes from Senate Democrats and the president.
This puts Speaker Boehner in an impossible position, as this Wall Street Journal article explains:
Failure of the House bill cleared the path for Senate leaders to finalize their compromise. It is unclear whether Congress will be able to finish the legislation before the Thursday target date set by Treasury. Under Senate rules, a single senator could delay a final vote for days after it is filed. But the bill could pass the Senate as early as Wednesday if every senator agrees to expedited procedures.
GOP leaders in the House then may simply bring up the Senate bill, which would likely have to draw support from large numbers of Democrats to pass over opposition from large numbers of Republicans. That could be a politically risky vote for Mr. Boehner, whose battle with conservatives Tuesday was just the latest of his beleaguered speakership.
For all the drama, the House legislation looked much like the Senate plan and, like the Senate proposal, was only a short-term fix. The House bill would have raised the debt limit through Feb. 7 and ended the 15-day government shutdown by funding federal agencies through Dec. 15.
Conservatives objected both to the Senate bill and Mr. Boehner's alternative because they gave Republicans too little of what they had been demanding-major changes in the 2010 health-care law and measures to reduce the deficit.
GOP leaders spent the afternoon seeking support for the bill.
They had tried to build backing by including proposals sought by conservatives, including one that would cut government health-insurance benefits for congressional and administration officials, including their staff, under the 2010 health-care law.
But that wasn't enough to win over the party's most conservative members, who said it didn't do enough to dismantle the health law.
The House GOP bill met powerful headwinds when the conservative political group Heritage Action on Tuesday evening announced its opposition and said votes on the measure would be included in the group's influential ratings of lawmakers.
Senators underscored the urgency of the situation as they waited for the House to act.
"We are 33 hours away from the possibility of the United States of America becoming a deadbeat nation by not paying its bills to its own people and other creditors,'' said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.).
In short, Boehner is playing for his job. If, as seems likely at this point, the speaker is forced to bring the Senate bill to the floor because there's no GOP House alternative and time is running very short, and it passes with mostly Democratic support, the backlash by backbenchers could result in Boehner's departure as speaker. His lack of leadership has had disastrous results for Republicans. Caving in to Democrats could be the last straw.
There are probably enough Republicans to pass the Senate bill once it reaches the floor. But both House and Senate conservatives are still plotting to derail the measure and both have some parliamentary tricks up their sleeves they can use to delay a vote. Their reasoning is, the closer we get to the deadline, the more willing Senate Democrats will be to offer concessions.
It's a risky strategy, but its all they have left.