Stop us if you've heard this one before: House Republican leaders craft a legislative plan they think can win passage, only to be rebuffed by conservative members expressing outrage at the idea. Then, it's back to the drawing board.
That's the situation House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) currently finds himself in as he tries to pass a bill to keep the government funded beyond the end of the month. It's an all-too-familiar spot for the GOP leader and his top deputies, for whom each high-stakes legislative battle seems even more ripe for party infighting than the last one.
GOP leadership was forced Wednesday to put off a vote on a plan offered by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) because it lacked sufficient support from Republicans. The proposal would fund the government through mid-December and contains a provision to defund Obamcare.
But the Democratic-controlled Senate could vote down the Obamacare provision and send the rest of it on to the president for his approval. That alienated enough House Republicans to delay the vote and send leaders, well, back to the drawing board in search of a workable deal.
But what's workable depends upon whom you ask. Some conservatives see the fall fiscal debates as the last best chance to shred Obamacare. And they're willing to do it at all costs, even if it means temporarily shuttering the government, which would be the result of passing something the president won't sign. Others see that as a disastrous outcome that will destroy the GOP brand.
"At the end of the day, I don't think it's a winning narrative for the Republicans to say we are not going to fund the health bill or we'll shut the government down," said former Republican congressman Tom Davis of Virginia.
A new CNN/ORC International poll released Wednesday shows that 51 percent of Americans say Republicans in Congress would be more responsible for a shutdown, compared to just 33 percent who would hold Obama more accountable. As the face of the Republican Party on Capitol Hill, it's not hard to see why Boehner wants to avoid that scenario.
The same poll showed declining support for Obamacare, fueling the push from conservatives who see little time left to try to derail the law, with key implementation deadlines approaching.
Conservative activist Brent Bozell suggested that Republican leadership "Simply go to the American people and say we are passing a CR to keep the government going, and if the president shuts down the government, he will have to explain it to you."
The competing views have put Boehner in a very tough spot. Yet again. A Washington Post analysis conducted earlier this year revealed that in six key votes between the November election and early July, nearly 30 percent of Republicans voted against leadership at least half the time and a majority parted ways on at least two votes.
With the GOP Conference split into factions, key fiscal deadlines looming, and no obvious long-term remedies for the deep divisions, the question is this: How long will leadership continue down the path it is on, trying time and again to walk the fine line between satisfying the political right and coming up with legislation that can pass Congress?
The answer is probably the foreseeable future, because the alternatives look even worse for Boehner. Sure, he could bow to conservative demands. But that could mean a government shutdown with his stamp of approval, and potentially big-time political damage done to a GOP trying to mend itself after a disappointing election.
Boehner could also try to pass legislation with moderate Republican support and the backing of most Democrats. But such a move would trigger an outright revolt among House Republicans degrees more severe that what the speaker currently faces.
If it seems history is repeating itself in the House, that's because it is. And unless something big changes, the next few chapters are going to look very much like the last few.
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