As negotiations to avert a government shutdown tick down to the final stages, House Speaker John Boehner is receiving strong support from his Republican colleagues to cut a deal with the White House and Senate Democrats to avoid the shutdown. This development runs counter to the contention of Senate Democrats that the Ohio Republican is hamstrung by divisions within GOP ranks.
Several House Republicans, including Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., the president of the 87-member freshmen class told Boehner they would follow his lead on a deal to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. Scott implied he would back the deal sight unseen.
“I trust you and I’ll support you on whatever deal you bring us,” Scott said during a closed-door House Republican conference meeting today. Scott told National Journal he was speaking for himself and not for the entire freshmen class. Boehner also received “several” standing ovations, according to Republicans in the room. One senior Republican aide cautioned that the enthusiasm in the room was occurring “in a vacuum” and members still don’t know what a prospective deal look like. Until they do, this aide said, Boehner’s support, though strong, is far from unconditional.
Presidential hopefuls Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Mike Huckabee and Republican Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., are just the latest conservatives to urge House Republicans to take a deal and avoid a shutdown. Republican strategist Karl Rove warned Thursday in a polling memo posted to his website that a shutdown would benefit Democrats politically.
“The shutdowns [in 1995 and 1996] helped improve Clinton's political standing, boosting both his approval rating and perceptions of him as a strong leader,” Rove wrote. “President Obama’s ratings a strong leader have slipped this year … Republicans should be careful not to let him recover as he gears up for his 2012 re-election campaign.”
Boehner refused to disclose specifics on what has been agreed to and what remains to negotiate, telling the assembled Republicans at one point: “Talking to you people is like talking to a press conference.” On questions of what riders were settled and which were still being discussed as well as which cuts had been agreed to, Boehner was, in the words of one senior House GOP aide “strategically opaque.”
“Definitely the sentiment in the room was he’s in the middle of negotiations, that he’s fought the good fight, stood up for the conference and that we need to close the deal,” the GOP aide said.
The overwhelming sense among House Republicans attending the conference was that a shutdown would be averted and a compromise on the spending levels and policy riders would be acceptable to the vast majority of the conference.
“For a huge bulk of members there is no appetite for shutting the government down,” said another senior GOP aide.
Interestingly, House GOP conservatives told National Journal their offices – which earlier this week received steady phone calls and emails from Tea Party activists – have heard almost nothing today in terms of pressure to shut the government down. Some GOP offices interpret that, possibly, as a sign some Tea Party activists have resigned themselves to a deal that is less than originally sought in terms of spending cuts and policy changes. That’s a theory that might be born in part on wishful thinking, but GOP aides said they have been surprised at the lack of organized Tea Party pressure so near to the shutdown deadline.
At the conference meeting, Boehner advised Republicans to remember the battle over the 2011 budget isn’t the only one they will have to fight this year and they should prepare for tougher ones ahead – and that husbanding political clout and capital by seeking a deal now is one way to do just that.
Even so, top House GOP vote counters expect as many as 30 defections on whatever compromise is reached, meaning some Democratic votes will be necessary to move the bill out of the House.
Currently, House GOP leaders are preparing to pass a short-term CR on an expedited basis tonight to keep the government operating while the deal – whatever its contours – is put in legislative language for full House and Senate consideration later this week. While no one knows the exact schedule, Boehner told Republicans he will convene another full conference meeting to discuss and debate the compromise before asking members to vote for it. At this stage, it appears that maneuver will be largely formulaic as Boehner has the backing to strike a deal and move on.
And that may well happen in the next few hours.
Follow Major Garret on Twitter at @MajoratNJ.