President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies have been saying for
days that a majority of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress
support taking up a simple extension of government spending.
first glance, it might appear they're right. So why is the federal
government's shutdown now in its fourth day, with no end in sight?
The reality is that a complex array of variables and political
considerations has kept the House from voting on the "clean" continuing
resolution sent to them several times by the Senate. The politics are
not so simple – even if many House Republicans privately favor the
clean, six-week extension in government spending, they have refused to
break ranks and join with Democrats to reopen the government.
Here's a look at why …
Do most House Republicans support a ‘clean' continuing resolution?
Maybe privately, but their actions in public belie those sentiments.
continuing resolution (or "CR") is exactly what it sounds like: a
resolution to continue government spending at existing levels for a
length of time. Congress has routinely used these resolutions to prevent
a shutdown in the past, especially when they have failed to reach an
overarching budget for the fiscal year. A "clean" CR means that there
aren't any extraneous provisions – a repeal of Obamacare, for instance –
attached to it.
Democrats have favored using this clean CR to
resolve the shutdown, and Republicans have repeatedly had a chance to
bring the Senate-passed spending legislation up for a vote, and each
time, they have declined. This was most vividly illustrated on Monday
night, when, in the hours leading up to a shutdown, House Republicans
repeatedly refused to do this, and instead returned legislation to the
Democratic upper chamber that would have sought to undo or delay
There are a few key numbers to know in analyzing the state of play: 217, 200, 17, 20, 190, and 1.
there are three vacancies in the House right now, it takes 217 votes to
pass legislation with a simple majority. There are currently 200
Democrats in the House, which means that they would need 17 Republicans
to break ranks (assuming every Democrat were to show up and vote) to
pass a clean CR.
According to various whip counts, about 20 House Republicans have publicly endorsed a clean continuing resolution.
according to reporting from the Washington Examiner's Byron York, as
many as 190 House Republicans privately support a clean continuing
One of those Republicans – at least according to a
spokesman for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – is Boehner
Those numbers are all soft, though. It's impossible to
say how many lawmakers would stick to their private statements if push
came to shove, especially if conservative groups worked actively to
oppose such a vote.
So why didn't the House vote on a clean CR?
into the days and hours before the shutdown, Republicans were betting
that Democrats in the Senate and Obama himself would blink. Many
Republicans argued that the Obama administration feared a shutdown so
much that it would relent and agree to concessions on the president's
signature health care reform law.
Boehner also led Republicans down this path because of the GOP's
internal political dynamics. After Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spent the
better part of two months galvanizing conservatives behind a strategy to
use the shutdown (and the looming debt ceiling) as leverage to undo
Obamacare, Boehner and a number of rank-and-file Republicans fell under
intense pressure to follow through with the strategy in order to mollify
the conservative grassroots.
What's the deal with Republicans?
have argued that Boehner has held up a vote on a clean continuing
resolution for fear of losing the speakership. They're not necessarily
Boehner has always suffered from an unwieldy relationship
with conservatives in the House GOP, who have undercut the speaker and
his leadership team in various battles in the past. Furthermore,
Boehner's re-election as speaker earlier this year was almost thrown to
an embarrassing second ballot after several Republicans staged protest
votes against Boehner.
In short, Boehner's ability to serve is
somewhat at the mercy of a small but vocal faction of House Republicans
who would threaten to upend a fragile GOP leadership coalition if they
finally judged Boehner guilty of conservative apostasy.
So Boehner's unwillingness to cut off these conservatives is why we have a shutdown?
Sort of. Obama has certainly argued that Boehner's considerations are the primary obstacle to reopening the government.
are enough Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives
today that, if the speaker of the House, John Boehner, simply let the
bill get on the floor for an up-or-down vote, every congressman could
vote their conscience -- the shutdown would end today," Obama said
Thursday in Maryland.
Undoubtedly, Boehner would have risked
inflaming conservatives – and thereby risked his grasp on the
speakership – had he decided to proceed with a vote on the clean CR
despite the opposition of the GOP's most ardent conservatives.
Is the president right, then?
Not really. Though Boehner has refused to bring up a clean CR for a vote, Republicans in the House continue to have his back.
To boot, GOP lawmakers have technically had a few chances to force a vote on the Senate continuing resolution.
Several times this week, Democrats have tried to attach the clean CR
to one of the several mini-spending bills advanced through the House by
Republicans. The chair ruled these moves out of order for parliamentary
reasons, and Democrats in turn asked for a formal vote to table the
ruling of the chair.
In short, such a vote would have set aside
the parliamentary maneuver, and allowed a clean CR to move forward. But
no GOP lawmaker – even those who are on the record in support of a clean
CR – broke ranks and voted with Democrats.
expected on Friday afternoon to force another key procedural vote that
would allow for House consideration of the clean CR. But Republicans are
likely to oppose that, too.
Wait, I don't get it. Why would so many Republicans vote against something they privately support?
might be true that the vast majority of Republicans in Congress just
want this fiscal mess to end before it does any more damage to the GOP.
But those sentiments are only theoretical. And there are a number of
strategic considerations that come into play for Republicans at this
stage of the game.
If House Republicans were to break with Boehner
and join with Democrats to pass a clean CR, it would be a giant rebuke
to Boehner, hand a major political victory to Obama, and make the
political fallout from the shutdown completely for naught.
the only real leverage Republicans have left is the debt ceiling
deadline on Oct. 17. If Republicans were to concede defeat on the CR and
vote for the clean spending measure at this stage, it would be a vote
to deprive themselves of leverage and diminish the chances of winning
any concession whatsoever from the administration or Senate Democrats.
So is a clean CR completely dead?
The House isn't past
the point of no return, but it's pretty close. Democrats would need to
increase the intensity and amplitude on the small group of Republicans –
who are mostly moderates from swing districts – to make good on their
endorsement of a clean CR, and break from Boehner. These Republicans
haven't done so yet, and would have to become much more concerned about
losing their seats in 2014 before they move into Democrats' column.
could also conceivably decide that he's regained the upper-hand over
conservatives in his conference, whom many moderate or
establishment-friendly Republicans blame for forcing Boehner into such
an untenable negotiating position in the first place.
Until then, though, the government shutdown will continue.
Saturday, January 20 2018 12:26 AM EST2018-01-20 05:26:56 GMT
A bitterly-divided Congress is hurtling toward a government shutdown this weekend in a partisan stare-down over demands by Democrats for a solution on politically fraught legislation to protect about 700,000...More
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