For weeks, the dominant narrative of the debt ceiling debate has been the division between the establishment and tea party wings of the Republican party.
Democrats have gleefully noted the chasm and jabbed at House Speaker John Boehner for his seeming inability to rally his conference behind even a bill he authored to extend the debt ceiling.
But it may well be Boehner who gets the last laugh (for now) as most sharp observers of Capitol Hill believe that he will get the 217 votes he needs to pass the bill later today and, in so doing, will not only put the debt ceiling ball — it would be cool if one of those actually existed — back into Democrats’ court but also quiet rumors of a tea party rebellion in his ranks.
“When the Speaker gets a deal cutting spending with no new taxes in order to raise the debt ceiling, he will finally silence those who have second guessed that John Boehner is the leader of the Republican party,” predicted former Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.).
If the bill passes — and it remains an “if” not a “when” — it will be largely due to a major display of will by Boehner.
Forty eight hours ago, the legislation appeared dead in the water when Republican Study Committee chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) predicted that it would fail and the Congressional Budget Office said it fell short of the $900 billion in savings Boehner had promised.
With the very real risk that the bill would collapse — and, in so doing, raise serious questions about Boehner’s power and influence within conference — the Ohio Republican went on offense.
His “get your ass in line” warning to Republicans in a private gathering on Wednesday paid some immediate dividends with previously undecided members coming out for the plan and other who had been definite “no’s” willing to reconsider their position.
(Sidebar: If Boehner is able to get the bill through the House and it winds up being a part of some sort of bicameral compromise, that “get your ass in line” line will become one of the defining moments of the entire saga.)
Boehner was also aided, according to this in the know, by the so-called “Young Guns” — Reps. Eric Cantor (Va.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Paul Ryan (Wisc.) who have been strongly behind the plan from the start and working to rally support to Boehner’s cause.
And, Boehner benefited from a bit of luck — always a key component in these sorts of pitched political fights — when it was revealed that a staffer for the Republican Study Committee was coordinating with outside groups to target undecided GOP members including some who belonged to the RSC. The uproar seemed to split conservatives, handing Boehner an opening to recruit more backers for his plan.
“Keeping up a calm public presence with clear strong sound bites protects Boehner from critics and will further strengthen his speakership should he prevail in negotiations,” said former House Republican leadership aide Ron Bonjean.
While it’s hard to dispute that Boehner will have quieted his critics if he is able to herd his conference (plus a Democrat or two) to 217 votes, it’s equally apparent that his triumph may be short lived.
Senate Democrats are presenting a united front against the Boehner bill — all 53 sent a letter to the House on Wednesday insisting the legislation was dead on arrival in the upper chamber — and it’s an absolute certainty that they will make changes to the bill in order to pass it.
That will send the bill back to the House where Boehner will have to find a way back to 217 for legislation that will almost certainly be less appealing to the tea party wing of the GOP than the bill they will vote on later today.
So, today’s (presumed) victory may be tomorrow (or the next day’s) problem. But, for today, Boehner is in line to score a win that seemed out of reach just two days ago.
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