A step-by-step guide to what’s next in the government shutdown showdown

September 20, 2013

Continuing resolutions and Obamacare and a shutdown. Oh my!

The House on Friday passed a measure that would keep government running and defund Obamacare, setting the stage for a flurry of activity in both chambers of Congress leading up to Sept. 30, the deadline for the federal government to replenish its funding.

So, what's next? Several things -- some which we know with more certainty than others. Below we explain how we anticipate the debate playing out on Capitol Hill, step by step, with the caveat that there are a lot of moving parts, and things could change in a hurry.

1. The House voted Friday on a stopgap spending bill that will fund the government beyond Sept. 30, with one exception: Obamacare. This is what House conservatives have been demanding. The measure passed 230-189, with only two Democrats and one Republican crossing party lines.


( J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

2. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it stands zero chance of winning passage. None. Zilch. A coterie of Senate conservatives has been trying to ramp up support for defunding Obamacare in the budget debate. But their effort has gained virtually no traction. They will continue to fight. (Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has promised to filibuster, though as filibuster veteran Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) noted, it would only delay, not put a full stop to things.) But ultimately, it's a battle they stand virtually no chance of winning.


The Senate side of the U.S. Capitol. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

3. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to strip out the part of the bill that defunds Obamacare. The Senate would then pass a CR without the provision, likely some time next week. Even Cruz, a vocal advocate of defunding Obamacare, acknowledged this is the most likely outcome.

4. The Senate-passed CR would be sent back to the House, which would have only days left to vote on it before the end of the month. And this is where things would get interesting.

5. What Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) could say to House conservatives at that point is, 'Hey, we did all we could, but Senate Republicans couldn't bring this home. Nor will they ever be able to under the current balance of the upper chamber. Let's vote for the Senate-passed CR and gear up for next month's debt ceiling fight, in which we are going to try to delay Obamacare for a year.'


House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

5a. Maybe that would work. More likely, it wouldn't. Remember, we're talking about cast-iron House conservatives that Boehner will have to convince. They haven't budged so far. It's going to be a very tough sell for GOP leadership.

6. If it doesn't work (meaning a majority of Republicans don't buy it), Boehner will have two choices: 1) Cobble together a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats to pass the Senate-approved CR and prevent a shutdown, or 2) Don't vote on it, stand with the cast-iron conservatives and brace for a shutdown. It would not be an easy call. In other words, he'd be in quite a jam.

This is jam ((Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
This is jam. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

6a. Neither solution is cost-free for Boehner. The first one would further enrage House conservatives and badly damage his clout in the GOP conference. (If you think things are bad now, just wait.) The second risks a major backlash against the Republican Party. It's not yet clear what Boehner would do. But what is clear is that it would be one of the hardest decisions he's had to make yet as speaker.


(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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