Will House Republicans allow a retreat?

October 14, 2013
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

New Washington Post/ABC polling confirms everything that we’ve been hearing: the Republican shutdown/debt limit strategy is a total disaster for them, at least as far as immediate public reaction is concerned. The survey finds a massive 21/74 percent approval/disapproval split on Republican handling of the budget negotiations; Barack Obama, on the other hand, has a negative but fairly mild 42/53 split on the budget.

All of this has sparked what appears to be, pending details, a clear retreat by Republicans in the upper chamber. As of this hour, the Senate appears to be very close to an agreement, along the lines that Greg Sargent discussed earlier, to get the government open and the debt limit raised. If Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell agree, then the Senate will surely support it, easily overcoming any last-ditch filibuster from radical Republicans. When the Senate gaveled in earlier this afternoon, both Reid and McConnell said they were optimistic — and in an even more encouraging sign, neither of them trotted out their usual talking points to bash the other side.

Even a 100-0 vote in the Senate, however, doesn’t open the government back up. The House will still have to act. We still haven’t heard any reaction from House Republicans, but reports have John Boehner meeting briefly with Mitch McConnell.

It’s worth pounding home this point one more time: don’t personalize this. It’s not really about John Boehner.

Instead, it’s about two groups. One is the twenty-five or so most moderate Republicans, the ones who know they’ll have to vote for the final eventual package. If they were willing to demand a vote, then they would get one (the procedural details are grim, but basically they’ve had several opportunities to force a vote on re-opening government, and they wouldn’t take them).

The other is the much larger group of mainstream House conservatives, who make up the overwhelming majority of the 232-member House Republican conference. Most of them won’t vote for the final package, but if they give John Boehner the go-ahead, he’ll be able to put it on the floor and it will pass.

It’s really not about Boehner. If he was going to act against the wishes of the vast majority of House Republicans, he would be out of a job before anything reached the House floor, not afterwards.

That’s not to say Boehner has no influence at all…he may have some, after all, on how mainstream conservatives react to any particular package. But they’ve forbidden him from bargaining with the president, which means that the House only gets to approve or disapprove whatever the Senate does.

So we’ll see. But in the meantime, don’t blame John Boehner: it’s moderate Republicans who are afraid of separating themselves out from mainstream conservatives, and mainstream conservatives who are afraid of allowing any distance between themselves and the self-destructive radicals, who are the real problem.

 

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Greg Sargent | October 14, 2013