The government shutdown could end today. All it would cost is John Boehner’s speakership.

October 3, 2013

Here's an interesting political conundrum: The federal government could re-open tomorrow. But it would end John Boehner's speakership.


(Mark Wilson/GETTY IMAGES)

There are currently 19 House Republicans on the record in support of a "clean" continuing resolution, meaning one without any other extraneous measures -- like the defunding or delaying of Obamcare -- attached. Combine those nineteen with the 200 Democrats who would almost certainly vote as a bloc in support of such a clean CR and you get 219 votes -- a majority of the House. The bill has already been passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, so it would go to straight to President Obama who would sign it. Shutdown over. Easy.

Except one little thing, which is that the only way for that scenario to happen is for Boehner to allow a piece of legislation supported by roughly 7 percent of his conference to come to the House floor for a vote. And, doing that on something as high-profile as a government shutdown/Obamacare, would almost certainly signal either the symbolic (or maybe even practical) end of his speakership.

Why? First a bit of context.

On Jan. 1, 2013, Boehner put the deal to avert the fiscal cliff on the House floor. It passed with 257 votes -- just 85 of which came from Republicans. Later that month, the House voted in favor of relief money for Hurricane Sandy victims although just 49 Republicans supported it. Then in February, the House re-authorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with just 87 Republican votes. In all three cases, a minority of Republican House Members backed the measure.

So, there is both precedent and peril in allowing a vote on a measure that lacks the support of a majority of the House Republican conference. Precedent in that Boehner has done it before -- although never with so few Republicans "yes" votes guaranteed -- and peril in that, well, Boehner has done this sort of thing before.

Remember that Boehner came within a hair's breadth of being forced into a second ballot vote to be re-elected Speaker at the start of the 113th Congress, and that was before the Sandy relief and VAWA votes.  To allow another measure -- and this one that not only deals with a government shutdown but also Obamacare -- to pass with almost exclusively Democratic votes would be a bridge too far for lots and lots of House Republicans. There could well be an immediate revolt against Boehner and, even if there wasn't, any chance that he would remain on as Speaker in 2015 (assuming Republicans hold the majority) would be gone.

Boehner knows that reality all too well. Without some sort of major concession -- something he can go to his GOP conference with and say, "See, they gave in on this" -- it would be political suicide for him to bring up a clean continuing resolution supported by less than 10 percent of his conference.

So, the government will remain shut unless that sort of deal is made or Boehner decides that he's had enough of being Speaker.

Fixbits: 

President Obama met with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders at the White House Wednesday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the gathering  called "cordial but unproductive."

The National Park service declined the RNC's offer to keep the World War II Memorial open.

In the Virginia governor's race, Democrat Terry McAuliffe will release a new ad tying Republican Ken Cuccinelli II (R) to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

Newark Mayor Cory Booker raised nearly $2.9 million during the latest fundraising period for his Senate campaign, an impressive haul.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said Wednesday that the standoff in Congress that triggered a federal government shutdown is symptomatic of a larger problem that won’t be solved until “structural changes are made.”

Cruz felt the heat from his Senate Republican colleagues.

House Democrats released a comprehensive immigration proposal.

Must-reads: 

"John Boehner, between a rock and a hard place on shutdown and debt limit" -- Paul Kane, Washington Post

"Focus shifts to looming debt-ceiling deadline as shutdown talks at White House go nowhere" -- Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post

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Jeff Simon · October 2, 2013