October 15, 2013

House Republican leaders, apparently desperate to prevent any House vote on the emerging bipartisan Senate deal to end the crisis, have rolled out a new plan designed to reopen the government and lift the debt limit, but on their own terms. The House GOP plan would fund government until January 15th and lift the debt limit into early February, just as the Senate one does — but also require Dems accept significant changes to Obamacare, which they aren’t going to do.

Dem Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a key ally of the Dem leadership and White House, told House Democrats at a private meeting today that a vote for the new House GOP plan is a vote for a deliberate Tea Party effort to sabotage the emerging Senate deal.

In an interview with me, Van Hollen strongly suggested it will get no Democratic votes, which could call into question the ability of Republicans to pass this plan through the House, as some conservatives are already balking at it because it raises the debt limit

“This has no Democratic support,” Van Hollen told me. “It is a recipe for default. The Democratic leadership told the caucus that a vote for this is a vote for default and for keeping the government shut down. Democrats understood that this is exactly what this was.”

Van Hollen also ruled out the possibility of Dems accepting any middle ground between the House GOP plan and the Senate compromise — and again reiterated that anything that requires significant concessions from Dems under threat of default and economic havoc is a nonstarter. The House GOP plan includes a two year repeal of the medical device tax and the elimination of Obamacare subsidies for members of Congress and staff.

Pressed on whether Dems would accept any compromise between the two, Van Hollen said: “No. The message is, let the bipartisan Senate effort work. Don’t sabotage it. The whole purpose of the Tea Party caucus’ plan is to sabotage any bipartisan agreement.”

“Nobody gets anything for threatening to default on the debt and threatening the economy,” Van Hollen said.

And so, all signs remain that Dems are sticking with the bottom line they laid out at the outset of this battle. The House GOP plan was accompanied by a lot of bluster today, but it represents yet another climbdown off of previous House GOP positions, which will only encourage Dems to continue insisting that Republicans will get nothing meaningful in a context where they presume the threat of further harm to the country should give them unilateral leverage to extract unrelated concessions.

“The question from the beginning has been whether Speaker Boehner will stand up to the Tea Party faction,” Van Hollen said. “The question today is whether he will stand up to them now. This is a moment when level-headed voices in the House Republican caucus need to stand up. This is a moment of truth for Speaker Boehner.”

At the GOP leadership presser today, at which leaders introduced their latest plan, John Boehner notably did not rule out a House vote on the emerging Senate compromise. So one possible endgame here could be that Boehner might make one last, heroic stand for the Tea Party, perhaps passing the new House bill, which will promptly be rejected by the Senate. Then, having shown a willingness to take us right up to the brink of catastrophe, Boehner might then cave to the inevitable need to let something reopening the government and lifting the debt limit pass (the Senate compromise, or a version of it that includes a face-saver for Republicans) with a lot of Democratic votes, making the Tea Partiers very, very, very angry, and suffering the consequences.

That’s one way this could unfold, anyway.

GALLERY: Members of Congress who say they deserve shutdown pay

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