The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How Obama can win the debt standoff in 3 steps

Leave the lights on. Could the path to a deal be found in a presidential cot at the Capital? (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

As the government hurtles toward a shutdown and another showdown over the debt limit, Democrats have the House Republican caucus on the ropes. Republicans have politically boxed themselves in to the point that they can’t give in and they can’t prevail. Democrats need to give the Republican speaker and the more responsible and reasonable members of the Republican caucus a way out of their box.

So here’s a plan designed to at once press the Democratic advantage, avoid a shutdown and finally put the right-wing minority of the Republican caucus in its place:

1) President Obama should cancel all appointments and head over to the vice president’s office in the Capitol and reiterate past offers that he is available 24/7 to negotiate a budget and appropriations for the fiscal year that begins on Tuesday, including necessary fixes to the health-care law. He should have his budget director with him. The president should be prepared to remain there, including sleeping on the couch if necessary, until dawn on Tuesday. As we were reminded last week by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and earlier this year by Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), good theater can be good politics.

2) Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (Nev.) should call the Senate back into session on Sunday to reject the latest House resolution tying government funding to a one-year delay in the new health-care law. Vice President Biden should be in the chair, presiding. If any Republicans object to taking up the resolution, as one surely will, Biden should rule against the point of order and immediately put the issue to the full Senate. A majority of 51 votes to support Biden’s ruling -- the “nuclear option” for those who follow such rules-reform arcana -- would create a new precedent prohibiting filibusters of motions to proceed to consideration of legislation. We already know from last week’s Senate vote that there is a significant majority in that chamber that is willing to end debate and send a “clean” funding resolution back to the House.

3) House Democrats should send a letter, signed by every member, to House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) indicating they are ready to vote for a clean funding resolution keeping the government operating past Oct. 1.  if he will only put such a resolution to the full House for a vote. In this letter, they should also indicate they would be willing to vote to sustain any ruling from the chair that is required to take up such a resolution, should a Republicans raise a point of order against it. They should also indicate their willingness to provide sufficient votes to maintain Boehner as speaker for the balance of this Congress in the event a Republican moves to vacate the chair.

House Democrats should then proceed, as a group, to the House floor and remain there until a vote on a continuing resolution is put before them, using catcalls and rowdy behavior, if necessary (”Vote! Vote! Vote!"), along with other parliamentary maneuvers, to force Republicans to remain on the floor and agree to a vote. The idea would be to get as much of the country as possible to tune in to C-SPAN and the cable news channel to watch the spectacle of a Republican caucus that doesn’t believe in the democratic principle of majority rule and signaling its inability to govern responsibly. In that respect, too, good theater would be good politics.

If the speaker has the good sense to put the funding resolution to the House, we now know that there are sufficient Republican votes that would sustain any point of order against the move and allow the resolution to pass. In doing so, he would take back control of the House, and of his caucus, from the right-wing fringe whose power stems from the Republican desire to govern solely with the votes of a unanimous caucus.

If he fails to put the funding resolution to the House, then the country would know for sure which party and which leaders were responsible for the government shutdown.