The week’s two big stories — the unfolding Syria debacle and the government shutdown/Obamacare fight — brought out the best and worst in politicians. But in a week of many troubling developments, there was one standout maneuver: The House speaker’s handling of the continuing resolution.
Speaker of the House John Boehner had multiple problems. He had to keep his conference together. He couldn’t put the GOP in the position of being blamed for a shutdown. And he had to maintain some leverage with the White House and Senate Democrats to later try to extract something of benefit to conservatives and to the country at large.
The maneuver was brilliantly simple, but hardly simplistic. Give the House hardliners and the Senate shutdown squad exactly what they asked for: a continuing resolution with no Obamacare discretionary funding. The House Republicans passed it with only a single defection.
But now Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his few cohorts are in a box. They must, as he and several outside groups made very clear, filibuster the very continuing resolution they asked for. If not, the continuing resolution would come to a vote, all Dems would vote against it and his scheme would be finished. Senate Republicans could vote for the continuing resolution to defund Obamacare, but they would be outvoted by Senate Democrats. Then it would be clear there would be no conceivable way to get defunding; Senate Dems would not vote for it and the president would veto it. Then Cruz and his cohorts would have to come right out and threaten to shut down the government (by filibustering a continuing resolution with Obamacare funding) virtually forever.
What Boehner accomplished was three-fold. He got the monkey off the backs of House Republicans who were accused by Dems of wanting to shut down the government and by the far right of being wimps. He also exposed the fraudulent claim that Obamacare could be “defunded,” thereby demolishing any advantage House radicals and Cruz might have had. (That will protect his own members when a deal eventually must be made.) And finally, he — rather than Cruz — has forced every Senate Democrat to vote against defunding Obamacare, a vote some red-state Dems will find difficult.
Then the speaker told the president on Friday evening in a phone call that regardless of what the president said about refusing to negotiate on the debt ceiling, Congress would proceed with regular order. A GOP aide on background gave a readout on the call: “The president called the speaker this evening to tell him he wouldn’t negotiate with him on the debt limit. Given the long history of using debt-limit increases to achieve bipartisan deficit reduction and economic reforms, the speaker was disappointed but told the president that the two chambers of Congress will chart the path ahead. It was a brief call.”
For keeping his party together, keeping the budget fight out of closed-door White House wrangling and in plain sight, keeping up the fight against Obamacare and making clear who were the productive and unproductive forces on the right, Boehner did his job superbly. For that we can say, well done Mr. Speaker.