Senate Republicans just successfully filibustered the transportation and housing bill, with most of the Republicans who had voted for the bill in committee siding today with the GOP leadership and the Tea Party against letting it move forward. Republicans blocked it in a 54-43 vote.
Democrats, obviously, had been hoping for a better outcome. They had viewed this vote as a test of whether Mitch McConnell was losing control of his caucus. Dems had been trying to drive a schism into the Senate GOP, in hopes of winning over a handful of compromise-minded Republicans (as happened on executive nominations and, to a greater degree, immigration reform) to work with Dems to fund government functions (transportation, housing) at a higher level.
That didn’t happen. Instead, Republicans maintained a filibuster against funding to the transportation and housing departments because it spent at higher levels than the sequester.
Obama and Democrats were hoping for renewed signs that they could win over a few Republican Senators in hopes of avoiding a debt limit showdown and replacing the sequester. But today’s events seem to confirm that the coming GOP crack-up Dems are hoping for will have to wait. Breaking with sequester level spending is still an ideological Rubicon that even a handful of Senate Republicans appears broadly unwilling to cross.
The events of the last two days strongly suggest we’re heading for a short term bill to continue funding the government this fall. Yesterday, by pulling their version of the transportation bill, House Republicans confirmed that they can’t pass anything that actually cuts the government to the sequester spending levels they theoretically prefer. Dems had hoped that, by peeling off a few Republican Senators to join with them in talks to replace the sequester, it might end up putting pressure on the House GOP leadership to cave and let something pass with Dem support. That was always going to be a long shot, but today’s outcome in the Senate — by reminding us that the GOP caucus can stay unified against compromise — casts further doubt on that possibility.
In truth, a short term “continuing resolution,” or CR, to fund the government might be the best case scenario. It’s still unclear whether House Republicans will be able to get such a thing passed — particularly if Dems want it to fund the government at a higher level than the sequester. Dems will probably be willing to agree to a CR at current funding levels if absolutely necessary. But it even remains to be seen whether House Republicans can pass that, given the growing determination of conservatives to insist that even a temporary funding measure must defund Obamacare (yesterday’s vote confirms this uncertainty). Sober-minded Senate Republicans will have to push House Republicans to get them to support a CR, but it’s anyone’s guess whether they will succeed.
Dems will have hope that in the longer term, Republicans (particularly “defense hawks”) will come to the table to negotiate on a longer term spending agreement at higher levels, out of a concern that current levels are unsustainable for defense.
But even that is uncertain. For now, the only thing that’s clear is that GOP-imposed crisis to crisis governing will continue through the fall and likely beyond.