A host of dynamics in the GOP have forced him to align himself with a camp of hard-core conservatives who, for much of the past three years, have made his life miserable.
Since Boehner became speaker in 2011, these lawmakers, most of them elected in 2010, have challenged his leadership and questioned his conservatism. They have defied him on one big vote after another, often throwing the House and sometimes the country into disarray.
Boehner’s unyielding position on the six-week government funding bill, which the Senate passed, is a testament to the power of that conservative bloc and a concession to its members. The insurgents are now his palace guards.
The speaker’s closest allies say he cannot afford to defy those on his right flank by ending the shutdown with largely Democratic votes.
Doing so would undermine his position among his members going into negotiations with the White House and Democrats over raising the federal debt limit, which Boehner and his leadership team regard as more critical than the impasse on government funding. Coming up empty-handed for conservatives on both would have broader ramifications.
Republicans who support the speaker argue that if he is going to antagonize the conservatives in his caucus, it would make more sense to do so on the debt-ceiling debate rather than on the funding of the government.
As painful as the government shutdown may be to some, the Treasury Department’s ability to use special measures to manage the nation’s finances will run out Oct. 17, setting up a potential default on the $16.7 trillion debt that would wreak far more havoc on the global financial markets than the shuttering of federal agencies and national parks.
Within the increasingly right-leaning GOP caucus, Boehner might survive one big vote that relied heavily on Democratic support. But two important votes — on the government funding and the debt ceiling — with mostly Democratic backing would leave the already embattled speaker on political life support.
The result is that Boehner has thrown in with the most conservative Republican lawmakers. A few dozen of them have urged holding up the government funding legislation to extract concessions from Democrats on President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Leaving a nearly 90-minute meeting Wednesday evening with Obama and congressional leaders, Boehner repeated his demand that Senate Democrats appoint negotiators to try to compromise on government funding and provisions of the health-care law, commonly known as Obamacare.
“All we’re asking for here is a discussion and fairness for the American people under Obamacare,” Boehner told reporters.