The one thing that is severely limiting John Boehner’s ability to negotiate and compromise with Senate Democrats over the budget and pass a clean debt ceiling increase is the threat of losing his speakership. Hard-line conservatives refuse to accept the political reality that Obamacare is the law of the land and are rejecting any budget deal that does not either defund or delay it. It’s an absurd negotiating position and President Obama will never agree to it. That puts us at a stalemate.
There is likely sufficient Democratic support in the House to pass a clean continuing resolution while keeping the sequester if Boehner chooses to bring such a bill to the floor. It probably would break the Hastert Rule (meaning it would not receive majority Republican support), but it would also prevent a government shutdown. However, if Boehner does that, his speakership would almost certainly be over. Here’s Buzzfeed’s Kate Nocera reporting:
“The House needs to completely defund Obamacare, not one penny to Obamacare. If so groups would reluctantly live with a one year no funding deal, but has to fully defund all aspects of Obamacare. Delay without defund or if House funds it in any capacity, then all hell is going to break loose,” said a conservative strategist who was on the call.
The strategist said a one-year delay of funding was “as far as these groups are willing to go.”
“If the House does not stick to its guns on this, there will be a major problem with the conservative and tea party base,” the strategist said.
This gives Boehner no maneuvering room. His options are to either defy the tea party base and lose his speakership or shutdown the government.
But there is one way for Boehner to ensure that he keeps his speakership even if he passes a bill that causes a Tea Party revolt: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Democrats should publicly commit to supporting Boehner if he brings up a clean CR and his base challenges him. This gives Boehner political cover to avoid a government shutdown while also demonstrating an ability to work with House Democrats. The Tea Party would go absolutely nuts, but who cares? Congress isn’t going to accomplish anything until after 2014 anyways.
As for Boehner’s personal incentives, if he really is going to retire after 2014, then right now he is looking to improve his legacy. He is (wrongly) considered an ineffective speaker who has accomplished very little. A government shutdown would only make his resume look worse. But avoiding a government shutdown while keeping the sequester would be a Republican victory that he could be proud of. He would undoubtedly take pleasure in reducing the power of the Tea Party as well. Even if he isn’t planning on retiring, a government shutdown increases the odds that Democrats take back the House which would end Boehner’s speakership in 2014 anyways. Avoiding a shutdown is in his personal interest no matter his future plans.
The biggest issue here is that relying on Democratic support makes Boehner a lame-duck speaker. If he still wanted to accomplish anything during the rest of this Congress, he would face such animosity from his base that he would have to rely on Democratic support. That’s a big problem for him. A few weeks ago, I wrote that it was basically too big of a problem to make it worth betraying the Tea Party. Now, the math has changed. Immigration reform is on life-support and Tea Party opposition to any CR that doesn’t defund or delay Obamacare has left Boehner with no good options. Avoiding a government shutdown with a clean CR would be good politics for the Republican Party and also good for the economy. The challenge is to make it politically feasible for Boehner to do. Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have the ability to do just that and it’s time they did so.
P.S. This would also ensure that we didn’t breach the debt ceiling as Pelosi and Boehner should make a similar deal over that. In fact, its much more important that Pelosi put her support behind Boehner in the debt ceiling standoff so that he feels safe raising the debt ceiling without any concessions from the president. That’s absolutely vital.