Tensions Inside the GOP Grow as Shutdown Drags On

House and Senate Republicans are separately negotiating with the White House, and offering deals that are far apart in approach and result.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 11: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) (L) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) leave a Senate Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol October 11, 2013 in Washington, DC. Senate Republicans met with President Barack Obama at the White House to discuss proposals to end the stalemate on the 11th day of the federal government partial shutdown. 
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
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Shane Goldmacher
Oct. 11, 2013, 3:28 p.m.

Mitch Mc­Con­nell and his GOP lead­er­ship team couldn’t be­lieve what they were see­ing. The plan Speak­er John Boehner floated Thursday to lift the debt lim­it for six weeks ““ while keep­ing the gov­ern­ment shut down ““ without any ma­jor policy con­ces­sions from Pres­id­ent Obama had come out of left field.

For months, years even, con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans had been united in stress­ing that any hike in the na­tion’s bor­row­ing lim­it had to be ac­com­pan­ied by White House con­ces­sions. This, sud­denly, was the op­pos­ite.

So when Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans trekked to the White House Fri­day for their own meet­ing with Pres­id­ent Obama, they presen­ted a com­pletely dif­fer­ent plan than their House col­leagues had less than 24 hours earli­er. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, offered a pack­age that would lift the debt lim­it un­til the end of Janu­ary and keep the gov­ern­ment op­er­at­ing for six months, in ex­change for some con­ces­sions. Law­makers would then use that time to craft a broad­er fisc­al agree­ment.

The dual-track ne­go­ti­ations with the White House are symp­to­mat­ic of sharp and grow­ing ten­sions among Re­pub­lic­ans on Cap­it­ol Hill. El­ev­en days in­to the gov­ern­ment shut­down, nerves are fray­ing as GOP law­makers fight among them­selves over tac­tics ““ the House versus Sen­ate, mod­er­ates versus hard­liners. Two polls this week ““ one from Gal­lup and one from The Wall Street Journ­al/NBC News ““ that showed the Re­pub­lic­an Party at re­cord low levels of sup­port have only heightened sens­it­iv­it­ies.

“Wel­come to the land of frus­tra­tion,” said Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., the chief deputy whip.

Months ago, Boehner had pushed his House col­leagues to make their main stand on the debt lim­it. But the ef­forts of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and out­side act­iv­ist groups to shut the gov­ern­ment to de­fund or de­rail the health care law made that im­possible. “This is not the ground we chose to fight on but this is the fight we have,” said a House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship aide.

The six-week Boehner pack­age was de­signed to ap­pease the con­ser­vat­ive hard­liners in his con­fer­ence not yet ready to give up the de­fund­ing fight without threat­en­ing the na­tion’s first-ever de­fault. It, ef­fect­ively, was an ef­fort to split the fisc­al fight in­to two: an on­go­ing shut­down battle now and a debt-lim­it bout in six weeks.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans are sym­path­et­ic to the speak­er’s polit­ic­al pre­dic­a­ment and try­ing to avoid too much GOP-on-GOP friendly fire. “All of us on this side of the build­ing don’t want to make any kind of ed­it­or­i­al com­ments about what the House is or isn’t do­ing be­cause we know it’s dif­fi­cult there right now to reach con­sensus,” said Sen. Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn.

But as they’ve watched the sink­ing poll num­bers, they are try­ing to move to­ward a com­pre­hens­ive deal ““ with or without Boehner, Cruz, and un­bend­ing ele­ments of the House GOP. Cork­er said ul­ti­mately both is­sues ““ end­ing the shut­down and rais­ing the debt lim­it ““ will have to be dealt with sim­ul­tan­eously.

Nu­mer­ous GOP sen­at­ors emerged from a 90-minute meet­ing Fri­day with Obama en­cour­aged that a deal was not far off. “He seems open to some of the sug­ges­tions that I made,” Collins said. Chal­lenges re­main, chief among them that Obama has pledged not to ne­go­ti­ate un­til Re­pub­lic­ans re­open the gov­ern­ment. Collins said that is­sue “seems to be one of tim­ing for him.”

“The prob­lem is, if you don’t put it all to­geth­er in one plan, I don’t know that we will be able to get suf­fi­cient sup­port to re­open gov­ern­ment and to ex­tend the debt lim­it,” she said. “That’s why I think it’s bet­ter to com­bine them in one plan.”

One of the center­pieces of Collins’ pro­pos­al is to roll back a med­ic­al device tax that helps fund the health law. But that is un­likely to sat­is­fy con­ser­vat­ives in the House or Sen­ate. “The cur­rent lead­er­ship path of shut­ting down the whole fight res­ult­ing in the med­ic­al device tax [re­peal] isn’t the Holy Grail con­ser­vat­ives are look­ing for,” said a seni­or GOP aide to a con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­or.

For in­stance, Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Paul Broun, who is run­ning for Geor­gia’s open Sen­ate seat, de­clared on Fri­day that noth­ing ““ not even an over­haul of en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams that Re­pub­lic­ans have long sought ““ would garner his vote if the health law re­mains on the books. “I will vote against any deal which does not stop Obama­care for all Amer­ic­ans, re­gard­less of any prom­ises made to com­prom­ise on the budget, tax re­form, or changes to en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams down the road,” Broun said.

Talks between both House Re­pub­lic­ans and Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans and the White House are in­creas­ingly fo­cused on set­ting up a frame­work for a broad fisc­al deal. Even the Boehner pack­age ““ which Obama form­ally re­jec­ted Fri­day ““ was an ef­fort “to get some space to ne­go­ti­ate a big­ger fisc­al frame­work,” ac­cord­ing to the House GOP lead­er­ship aide. Rep. Paul Ry­an, R-Wis., one of the most in­flu­en­tial Re­pub­lic­ans in the House, out­lined a sim­il­ar path in a Wall Street Journ­al op-ed earli­er this week.

Des­pite pub­lic polling and signs that the GOP ap­pet­ite for the Obama­care fight is sub­sid­ing, Cruz in­sists he’s win­ning. He re­ceived a rauc­ous re­sponse at the Val­ues Voter Sum­mit in Wash­ing­ton on Fri­day. “The Demo­crats are feel­ing the heat,” he told GOP act­iv­ists.

When told of Cruz’s re­mark, Cork­er leaned back and let loose a laugh.

“Thank­fully, we’re fi­nally fo­cused on the right thing, which is fisc­al is­sues,” he said. “That’s what debt ceil­ings are about. That’s what CRs are about “¦ Fi­nally we’re on the right sub­ject after a long and wind­ing rab­bit trail.”

Michael Catalin contributed to this article.
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