The annoyance among House leadership advisers and pro-Boehner-bill Republicans is palpable. Their annoyance is NOT directed at the freshmen Tea Partyers. According to whip lists publicly available, only about half of the “no’s” on the bill were from the freshmen. A senior adviser in the House leadership confirmed that at one point the speaker of the House was only eight to 10 votes short of passage on his bill. It is possible that House Speaker John Boehner, at some point, could have rolled the dice and brought the bill to the floor, hoping members would be pushed to support leadership. But that would have been an enormous gamble, something that could have prevented an eventual resolution. As leadership began to tweak the bill to lure back hardliners, some “yes” votes flipped to “no” votes.
A key adviser said, “We thought the [original] Boehner bill was the best we could negotiate. And it was.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was supportive of the terms of the original Boehner bill until the president nixed the deal last weekend. “We didn’t thread the needle,” he conceded.
The fear in the House is that Reid will “throw the Boehner bill in the garbage,” as one Republican put it, or strip it out and stick in the Reid bill provisions. What could very well come back to the House could be a much more moderate or even liberal-leaning bill.
The House is counting on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to get as close to the original Boehner bill as possible, but it is not at all clear he will have the votes to pass it. After all, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and other balance-budget insisters have said they would block anything that didn’t include passage of the balanced budget amendment (which would include the original Boehner bill). So DeMint and other Republican hardliners can block a Reid debt plan, but they also could block the Boehner bill.
No one should underestimate DeMint’s role in undermining the Boehner bill and thereby weakening the GOP’s hand. A senior Republican aide in the House said that DeMint was not the only reason Boehner failed, but he was “a big one,” especially in holding the South Carolina delegation in the “no” column. He noted that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) had also come out against the bill, but (no surprise for those who understand how he operates) in recent days he changed his tune, calling House members to tell them he might support the Boehner bill if it came out of the House. However, “DeMint was doing the opposite.” The fury with which DeMint lobbied against the speaker’s bill is nearly unprecedented in recent congressional history. Normally, the two houses don’t meddle so brazenly in each other’s business. House leadership believes that DeMint will be a “no” no matter what. Multiple Republican House offices expressed to me that they believe he is most interested in whipping up people and groups outside of Congress and raising money, rather than getting the best deal possible.
Perhaps they underestimate DeMint. Maybe his stunt in the House and the reaction to it will require that he play a more constructive role in the debate. But so far there is no sign that he wants to give up his standing with the most extreme and least practical elements in the party. DeMint’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Right Turn will update should I hear back.
For now, the Boehner bill with the balanced budget amendment is set for a 6 p.m. vote.