The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Don’t be fooled on budget negotiations

There’s a lot of attention today to what appears to be a new House proposal on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded beyond the end of the month. Greg Sargent has a good analysis of the chances of that proposal passing the House.

It’s worth remembering, however, the larger picture. Remember, the key thing we know is that eventually there will be something that can pass both the House and the Senate and get a presidential signature; the shorthand way of looking at that is that eventually something will emerge that both Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama can live with. That might happen after a shutdown, even a long shutdown; it could happen by the deadline. But it will happen.

It’s much less certain that the House will ever actually pass their opening bid. They might, but they don’t have to. They may do so in the hopes that it gives them a better bargaining position or because Republican members want to vote on it; or, they may not, either because there’s no consensus position that can hold the entire Republican conference, or because many members want to duck the vote.

Either way: The one vote to pay attention to is the final one, the deal that Boehner (and mainstream conservatives) and Obama (and mainstream liberals) can live with.

Why make the distinction? Because the two votes, the initial House position and the final CR, depend on a totally different group of votes. For the initial House position, Republicans will try to find the votes entirely, or almost entirely, from within their own conference, which means that any good-sized group can sink it. In practice, that means finding some way to get the most conservative Republicans to vote for appropriations that they don’t like voting for, regardless of the conditions.

But for the final vote, what matters is what the bulk of the conference, the mainstream conservatives, can live with (even if many of them may not actually vote for the deal). To put it another way: It’s close to certain that Louis Gohmert (and Ted Cruz) will vote against whatever Obama eventually signs into law to keep the government funded. So their leverage is actually pretty small. Indeed: their only real leverage is their ability to call the rest of the Republicans RINOs and sell-outs. And if those Republicans were smart, they would realize that it’s going to happen anyway, so they might as well ignore it.

At any rate: if you’re trying to understand what’s happening, just remember: The thing to keep your eyes on is the final deal, not the attempt to get the Republican position through the House.