August 22, 2013
The U.S. Capitol (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The U.S. Capitol (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

There’s tons of talk today about what exactly the strategy for House conservatives is going to be on both the new fiscal year funding and then the debt limit. This really goes back months: they’ve always been absolutely determined to take hostages (that’s the only thing the party of Newt knows how to do in these circumstances), but haven’t ever quite figured out exactly what they will demand.

It’s worth pointing out one more time that these confrontations have a known endgame, and it involves a choice for the bulk of the House Republican conference. Sooner or later, the House will eventually pass something that the Senate Democrats can support, and that President Obama will sign, that keeps the government going beyond the end of the fiscal year. Similarly, sooner or later, the House will eventually pass something that the Senate Democrats can support, and that Obama will sign, to raise the debt limit. Those bills might come after a shutdown or a debt-limit breach, but sooner or later it’s going to happen. Absolutely everyone agrees on that.

And when it does happen, mainstream conservatives in the House will have a choice: they’ll either have to vote for it, or they’ll have to allow it to pass with mostly Democratic votes.

That choice, voting for something acceptable to Democrats or allowing a “Hastert” violation, is real, and they eventually have to make it on all true must-pass bills; on everything else, there’s the third option of just letting it fail.

But it’s helpful to remember that the question about this isn’t whether they’ll eventually have this choice, but when: before or after the government shuts down; before or after the debt limit breach.

And knowing that, in turn, should clarify things for those House Republicans. Because it’s a choice they can’t get out of by being tough, or by making the right demands, or any other strategy; it’s just the basic situation they’re in.

So, yes, they can think about how best to bargain. They can also think about what cover votes they can take along the way. They can even decide, if they want, to blame Speaker John Boehner for it. But ultimately, they need to know that eventually they’ll either be voting for something that the president can sign or they’ll be allowing something to pass with mostly Democratic votes. There’s just no way to wiggle out of that reality of the situation.