August 23, 2013

John Boehner to conservatives: Guys, c’mon, check it out, we’ve already won! Can’t we just declare victory and throw a party?

With pressure mounting for a defund-Obamacare stand, John Boehner held a conference call with Republicans late yesterday in which he provided the clearest glimpse yet of how he’ll try to get out of this mess. He said the plan is to pass a Continuing Resolution this fall funding the government temporarily at current sequester levels — effectively acknowledging the threat of a shutdown is off the table.

Conservatives are greeting this as full scale surrender, which is why Boehner sought to package the extension — at sequester rates — as already representing a victory for austerity. As Lori Montgomery relates, GOP aides say they may use the debt limit for a stand against Obamacare later, but even that’s not clear, with one claiming: “This is all in the discussion phase right now.” The key nugget:

Instead, Boehner urged his rank and file to follow the strategy he laid out earlier this summer that calls for “holding votes that chip away at the legislative coalition the president is using to force Obamacare on the nation.” Meanwhile, he urged them to focus on the victory of the sequester, which is scheduled to slice nearly $100 billion a year from the Pentagon and other agency budgets over the next decade.

This is exactly what GOP-aligned commentators who recognize that a shutdown is nuts have urged: declare the sequester cuts as a victory — which in some ways they are — and don’t ruin things with insane Obamacare brinksmanship. But conservatives won’t accept this, because the sequester has been their only real victory in the epic struggle over the size and scope of government that has defined the Obama era, which won’t be settled until Obamacare lies in smoking ruins.

So does this mean Republicans may still try to threaten default to delay the law? Maybe, but as Politico reports, nobody believes it will happen:

The problem for House Republicans is simple: It’s difficult to find a single Republican leadership aide who thinks the party will shut down the government or default on the nation’s debt. It’s not exactly clear what their leverage is.

It’s good Boehner has made it clear there will be no government shutdown around Obamacare. The next step is to level with the base on the point Politico makes here: This fall’s fiscal fights just don’t give Republicans leverage to stop the law. But breaking this to the base won’t be easy to do. All the reporting today suggests Boehner hopes to keep things vague, muddling through by continuing to make noise about possible stands against Obamacare later as he picks his way through each crisis.

Now the question is whether Republicans can even pass a short term measure funding the government at current levels. Chris Van Hollen predicts they won’t, since years of anti-Obamacare insanity have defined anything short of the law’s total destruction as an abject, humiliating defeat, so many Republicans may not vote for a CR. But however chaotic things get this fall, GOP leaders have at least tried to take a first step back from the abyss.

* DEMS WILL PUSH FOR SEQUESTER REPLACEMENT: I asked Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a key Dem leader, for comment on Boehner’s vow to pass temporarily funding for the government at sequester levels. He replied Dems aren’t on board:

“The sequester is killing jobs every day. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office tells us we will lose almost a million jobs by this time next year. That is unacceptable and we will continue to push for a balanced plan to replace the job-killing sequester.”

Remember, if House Republicans can’t pass a CR on their own — which is possible — they’ll need Democratic help to avoid a government shutdown, which they fear would be disastrous to the GOP. Of course, it’s still very possible Dems will accept a short-term CR in hopes that they will have more leverage later over a long term deal.

* TALKS WITH SENATE REPUBLICANS HAVE STALLED: Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the search for a budget deal between the White House and supposedly-compromise-minded Senate Republicans has stalled. Most can’t accept any new revenue to replace the sequester.– and the House GOP is even more adamant. This is key:

“What Republicans want to do is make progress on the debt,” said Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a member of the House leadership’s vote-counting team. “With all due respect to Republicans in the Senate, just because you get a deal with the minority of the minority over there doesn’t mean you get a deal with a majority of the majority in the House.”

This neatly illustrates the problem: It doesn’t matter if majorities in the Senate and House might support a budget compromise; there will be no deal unless it is supported by a majority of House Republicans, period.

* OBAMA SAYS REPUBLICANS COWER IN FEAR OF RIGHT: In an interview with CNN, the President frames the government shutdown threats:

If you are putting the American people first, if you are prioritizing them, then this shouldn’t be that difficult. And I’ve made this argument to my Republican friends privately, and, by the way, sometimes they say to me privately, “I agree with you, but I’m worried about a primary from, you know, somebody in the Tea Party back in my district,” or, “I’m worried about what Rush Limbaugh is going to say about me on the radio. And so you got to understand, it’s really difficult.”

This is a coming attraction of sorts: if the possibility of a shutdown or default does loom as very possible, Obama will blame it on a GOP held hostage by extremists.

* OBAMA: NSA OVERSIGHT “WORKED”: Also from the CNN interview, Obama’s comment on the latest revelations about NSA surveillance overreach: “the point is, is that all these safeguards, checks, audits, oversight worked.”

Well, okay, but doesn’t the discovery of all these problems suggest that the programs may be out of control? And don’t they show a need for far more oversight at a minimum? In the interview did Obama reiterate his call for more such oversight, but it still remains to be seen what that will look like.

* SENATE MAP FAVORS GOP: National Journal rolls out its first ranking of the competitive Senate races. The upshot is that while the conservative tilt of the map favors the GOP, it remains unclear whether Republicans will be able to fully capitalize on it because of recruitment problems. Jonathan Bernstein recently explained why this is a long term problem: The prospect of Tea Party defeats may be dissuading mainstream Republicans from making races.

* DEMS EAGER TO SHOW THEY’RE ON OFFENSE ON HEALTH CARE: The Dem-allied Americans United for Change releases a new memo that recaps efforts to match defund-Obamacare events with organizational displays of their own, and details how Dem events have shaped press coverage. Dems want to show it’s not 2009 anymore: The anti-Obamacare push is running out of steam, as the law’s benefits kick in and (hopefully) replace the right’s cartoon version of the law in the public mind.

* COULD DEMOGRAPHIC SHIFTS HELP DEMS IN 2014? John Harwood has a nice piece explaining how the Virginia governor’s race — which Dem Terry McAuliffe may win, defying history — is a window on to how shifting demographics may be blunting the edge Republicans expect to enjoy in 2014, just as in 2010. Many expect the 2014 electorate to shift back to a whiter one than in 2012, but ongoing changes may mitigate that shift. However, with so many House GOPers in districts insulated from national demographic shifts, their majority appears safe.

* AND DEMS HOPE GOP CHAOS WINS THEM BACK HOUSE: National Democrats are rolling out a new strategy: capitalizing on GOP chaos to make the case that the party is no longer capable of governing, in order to make the case for putting Dems back in the House majority. However, the reality of the map is unforgiving: barring something truly seismic, Republicans will remain in the majority.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.