The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

John Boehner must cut loose the Tea Party

Here’s the read among Congressional Dems on this fall’s fiscal fights. At some point, House GOP leaders will have to pass an important bill with a lot of Democratic support — stiff-arming the Tea Party in the process. GOP leaders are trying to defer that moment for as long as possible, but there’s just no clear way around it.

Multiple reports this morning tell us House GOP leaders are struggling to round up support among House Republicans for their new strategy for the fall. They are proposing a vote on a measure that would temporarily fund the government at current sequester levels, with another measure attached to it that would defund Obamacare. The Dem-controlled Senate would pass the first but not the second; conservatives would get to vote to defund Obamacare; the House GOP would dodge blame for a shutdown.

But conservatives are rejecting the approach because, well, it wouldn’t defund Obamacare. And let’s face it, this strategy is rooted in fear. House GOP leaders don’t want to tie Obamacare defunding to a government funding bill because it will pass the House and force a shutdown confrontation that they will lose. But conservatives won’t be happy until they have that confrontation. And as David Drucker reports, this has “frustrated” more sober minded House Republicans who understand that this crusade is reckless, counterproductive and self destructive.

Right now, it’s unclear whether House Republicans can even pass their latest funding gimmick out of the House, because House Dems won’t support it and House conservatives won’t either because it won’t ultimately defund Obama’s tyrannical law. So House leaders are promising to fight the good fight in the next battle — they will supposedly demand a delay in Obamacare in exchange for a debt limit hike — in hopes of winning support in the first round.

But here’s the rub: At some point, something will have to pass with a lot of Dems.

Here’s why. If Republicans can’t pass their funding gimmick on their own, they’ll need to pass a clean CR with a lot of Dems or allow a shutdown. But even if Republicans do manage to pass their gimmick alone, it will only be because they promised conservatives that they will make enormous demands in the next fight. As one Dem aide put it to me, they will have to promise to demand a “grab bag of conservative fantasies” — an Obamacare delay; more spending cuts, whatever — in exchange for raising the debt limit. Needless to say, that will further alienate Dems, who have vowed not to negotiate on the debt ceiling. And conservatives — having swallowed a defeat in the first round and had their expectations for the next one pumped up — will be in even less of a mood to compromise.

That will leave only two choices: Pass a debt limit hike with mostly Democrats, stiff-arming the Tea Party, or allow economic havoc to break out. Boehner isn’t going to do the latter. So his only choice will be the former.  As Jonathan Bernstein puts it, the main overarching fact about this fall’s battles is that the only way must-pass legislation actually passes is if it is acceptable to both mainstream Republicans and Democrats.

Democratic aides tell me they will probably accept a temporary “CR” at current levels if Republicans can pass one. But they aren’t going to cave on the debt limit.

Which means that at some point this fall, Boehner will have to cut the Tea Party loose, and suffer the consequences.