Meet John Boehner’s new problem. Same as his old problem.

October 15, 2013

John Boehner can't catch a break.



WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (L) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) walk to a Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol, October 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The news of the morning was that Speaker Boehner's Republican conference in the House would put forward  a series of changes -- including delaying by two years Obamacare's medical device tax and removing the employer contribution for members of Congress and Cabinet officials -- to the deal being brewed in the Senate to end the government shutdown and avoid the debt ceiling deadline. It seemed an obvious attempt to pre-but worries among House conservatives that the Senate compromise simply wouldn't go far enough and, in particular, wouldn't address any of their concerns on President Obama's health-care law.

Except that after a more-than-two-hour meeting with GOP members, Boehner emerged to tell the press that there was, in fact, no Republican House plan. "There are a lot of opinions about what direction to go," Boehner said. "There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do."

According to WaPo's Lori Montgomery, Boehner's walk-back from a plan that seemed solid enough for the White House to release an official condemnation of it was due to worries that Boehner and the Republican leadership simply couldn't wrangle the 217 votes they needed from within their own ranks to pass it.  "The discussion was how to make the plan better, so I don't know what the plan ultimately will be," Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) told the Post's Jackie Kucinich.

Sound familiar? It should. Go back to the first few days of 2013 when Boehner's proposed "Plan B" counteroffer on the fiscal cliff couldn't come close to winning the necessary support from his fellow House Republicans. Or when the original farm bill failed due to a revolt among the most conservative elements within the House GOP. Or when the plan backed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Boehner to allow a vote to repeal Obamacare and keep the government open was tanked by, you guessed it, the same group of conservative House Republicans.

The math simply doesn't add up -- time and again for Boehner.  If he loses somewhere between 30 and 50 Republicans on any vote viewed as a compromise with the White House and Senate Democrats, he must find somewhere between a dozen and three dozen Democratic votes to make up the difference. And, to date, Democrats have refused to throw him a political life preserver to pass just about any of these measures.

Those facts repeatedly leave Boehner with only two choices: (1) Propose legislation favored by the most conservative wing of the party, ensuring unity in his ranks but dooming the bill in the Senate or (2) Accept that a compromise bill will have to pass with a majority of Democratic votes and the very real possibility of a minority of Republicans ones. The first option means we could be headed for default. The second means that Boehner's speakership would effectively be over.

Rock, meet hard place.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Jeff Simon | October 15, 2013