September 20, 2013

As expected, House Republicans today passed their measure temporarily funding the government at sequester levels while defunding Obamacare, temporarily postponing the day when they will have to officially choose between stiff-arming the Tea Party and taking the blame for a government shutdown.

What’s next? Here’s the roadmap, as best as I can determine it.

Senate Democrats vote on cloture on the motion to proceed to debate (which requires 60 votes) and then on the motion itself (which requires 50). Both of those pass (the 60 vote threshold is cleared because Republicans vote Yes since it contains defunding of Obamacare and Dems vote Yes because they want to move to strip it later). Then Dems signal they will offer an amendment stripping the defunding. They then move to end debate; Republicans oppose cloture because they know the defunding amendment is coming.

Dems probably manage to pass cloture with 60 votes, because plenty of Senate Republicans think the defund scheme is bat-bleep insane. It’s an open question how or whether Ted Cruz will put up procedural resistance (as Brian Beutler notes he’s likely to roll over and reveal this whole thing as a fraud). It’s also unclear (and well worth watching) how hard Mitch McConnell — who presumably will be under pressure from the right — will try to corral Republicans to vote against cloture (he’ll probably fail either way). The amendment stripping funding passes; the final simple majority Senate vote sends a “clean CR” back to the House.

After checking with Senate sources, it looks to me as if Dems will not try to attach a debt ceiling hike to the CR. There are two reasons for this. One is that a debt ceiling hike might not get 60 votes, because Republicans might not vote for it. (In the near term, before the debt limit deadline looms, there might be less pressure to vote Yes.) The second is that there’s reason to force Republicans to go through this whole mess twice — on funding the government, and on the debt limit — rather than once.

That’s because Republicans are using the looming debt limit fight as a way to get around the government shutdown problem they face, and in the process, are only going to make it harder on themselves later. After all, if John Boehner will likely end up passing a measure funding the government with mostly Dems — Ezra Klein has the rundown on that — Boehner will have to cushion the blow from the right by promising an epic confrontation later.

So Republicans will have to ask for an Obamacare delay, spending cuts, and a whole grab bag of other conservative goodies in exchange for a debt limit hike. Democrats will simply say No. The House GOP’s wheels will spin even harder at that point, because the threat of default is far more serious than that of a government shutdown.

In other words, the thinking is that John Boehner will be in an even weaker position at the very moment that the threat of economic havoc if Boehner doesn’t pass something with a lot of Democrats is far more severe.

In other words: Maximum chaos ahead.

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