A Viewer’s Guide to the Shutdown Showdown

With Republicans huddling and scenarios swirling, here’s your cheat-sheet on what to watch for this weekend.

With the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate at an impasse, Congress continues to struggle over how to fund the government and prevent a possible shutdown, at the Capitol in Washington, early Friday, Sept. 27, 2013.
National Journal
Tim Alberta
Add to Briefcase
Tim Alberta
Sept. 28, 2013, 2 a.m.

With few­er than 72 hours be­fore a po­ten­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down, the House re­con­venes Sat­urday to de­cide how law­makers should re­spond to a Sen­ate spend­ing bill that keeps Obama­care fund­ing in­tact.

Speak­er John Boehner and his lead­er­ship team used Fri­day as a “weath­er bal­loon day,” ac­cord­ing to a seni­or GOP aide — float­ing scen­ari­os and meet­ing with mem­bers to gauge sup­port.

But on Sat­urday, the time for hy­po­thet­ic­al talk will be over. House Re­pub­lic­ans will have to de­term­ine — in a hurry ““ the most ef­fect­ive way to both keep the gov­ern­ment run­ning and dam­age Obama­care.

With so many mov­ing parts, and so little time to ac­com­plish so much, even some law­makers are hav­ing a tough time keep­ing everything straight. We’re here to help. Here’s a cheat-sheet de­tail­ing what to watch for this week­end on Cap­it­ol Hill:

FIRST THINGS FIRST

Boehner on Thursday pitched Re­pub­lic­ans on a debt-ceil­ing pro­pos­al fea­tur­ing a one-year delay in im­ple­ment­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act. This pro­posed man­euver was stra­tegic­ally timed to al­low House Re­pub­lic­ans to re­gister an­oth­er vote against Obama­care be­fore be­ing forced days later to pass a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion that funds the very law they have prom­ised to de­fund.

But con­ser­vat­ives cri­ti­cized that ap­proach as a poor ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tic and de­man­ded they be al­lowed to re­spond to the Sen­ate’s CR be­fore con­sid­er­ing a sep­ar­ate, com­plex debt-ceil­ing pack­age.

While it looks re­solved ““ with lead­er­ship cav­ing and plan­ning a vote first on the re­vised CR ““ this tim­ing ques­tion could rise again if Re­pub­lic­ans fail to co­alesce around de­tails of said CR. So, don’t be sur­prised to hear re­newed calls this week­end to re­shuffle the votes in hopes of greas­ing the le­gis­lat­ive skids.

ADDING PRO­VI­SIONS

Now that the Sen­ate has stripped the GOP’s Obama­care de­fund­ing pro­vi­sion from the CR, the House has to de­cide how to re­turn vol­ley. There are a lot of op­tions, and the two most ob­vi­ous among them are also the most un­likely.

At one ex­treme, the House could simply pass the Sen­ate’s “clean” CR, which would go to Pres­id­ent Obama’s desk and im­me­di­ately be signed in­to law. (This scen­ario is im­prob­able, con­sid­er­ing Boehner already re­jec­ted it and his mem­bers would break in­to mutiny if he did oth­er­wise.) At the oth­er, the House could re-in­sert the de­fund lan­guage and send back to the Sen­ate a CR identic­al to the one it just re­jec­ted. (A few con­ser­vat­ives have ad­voc­ated this, but GOP lead­er­ship won’t per­mit such a waste of time at this late stage.)

That means the likely Re­pub­lic­an ap­proach will fall some­where in the middle ““ with the ad­di­tion of some, per­haps many, con­ser­vat­ive-friendly policy pro­vi­sions to the spend­ing bill.

A grow­ing chor­us of con­ser­vat­ives is call­ing for the second CR to in­clude a delay (not a de­fund) of Obama­care, just as the GOP debt-ceil­ing pack­age does. (There are vari­ations of the pro­posed delay, ran­ging from sev­er­al months, to one year, to the be­gin­ning of 2015.) The prob­lem with this, of course, is that Sen­ate Demo­crats would al­most cer­tainly re­ject it — and even if they didn’t, Obama would pro­duce his veto pen in re­cord time. Mean­while, the back-and-forth over that re­vised pro­pos­al would likely take sev­er­al days, ush­er­ing in the gov­ern­ment shut­down that GOP lead­er­ship says it wants to avoid.

Some Re­pub­lic­ans think their only chance of avoid­ing a shut­down while dam­aging Obama­care is to settle for a smal­ler-scale policy vic­tory, like at­tach­ing a pro­vi­sion to re­peal the un­pop­u­lar med­ic­al device tax. But here again, the White House has warned it will not ac­cept that either.

There’s a chance Boehner of­fers to pack­age sev­er­al smal­ler GOP policy ini­ti­at­ives in­to the CR, hop­ing to pick off dif­fer­ent mem­bers with dif­fer­ent pet is­sues. But it’s far from clear that even one of these pro­vi­sions could pass the Sen­ate.

A SHORT-TERM ‘FIX’

There’s only one way Re­pub­lic­ans can add con­ser­vat­ive good­ies to the CR (like an Obama­care delay or Key­stone XL pipeline ap­prov­al) while also avoid­ing a shut­down. They would have to send the Sen­ate some at­tached con­tin­gency lan­guage that keeps the gov­ern­ment fun­ded for a very short peri­od ““ say a week. That way, even if the sen­at­ors re­ject the House lan­guage, they could ap­prove sep­ar­ate le­gis­la­tion to keep the gov­ern­ment run­ning for long enough to al­low Re­pub­lic­ans to again re­vamp their pro­pos­al.

In the end, such a “solu­tion” would only buy Boehner time. He’d still be grap­pling with the very same prob­lem of de­vis­ing a pro­pos­al that unites his con­fer­ence but also stands a chance of clear­ing Con­gress.

WRECK-IT RE­PUB­LIC­ANS

There are a hand­ful of House con­ser­vat­ives, however, who are simply de­term­ined to hurt Obama­care ““ no mat­ter the col­lat­er­al dam­age. This is not a main­stream ap­proach, and in fact many Re­pub­lic­ans have warned re­peatedly about the dangers of a gov­ern­ment shut­down. But there are enough hard­liners ““ 15 to 20, per­haps ““ to po­ten­tially de­rail any GOP pro­pos­al they view as in­suf­fi­cient in its at­tack on the health care law.

That’s where the math gets tricky for Boehner. There are 233 Re­pub­lic­ans in the House, and 217 votes are needed to pass a bill. If the GOP con­fer­ence unites around a CR that is det­ri­ment­al but not deadly to Obama­care, the lead­er­ship team can prob­ably ex­pect to lose at least a dozen Re­pub­lic­an votes, maybe more. When the dust settles, Boehner could ul­ti­mately af­ford to lose 18 Re­pub­lic­an votes and still pass something, thanks to as­sist­ance from two Demo­crats ““ Utah Rep. Jim Math­eson and North Car­o­lina Rep. Mike McIntyre, who voted for the first CR and would al­most surely do so again.

The pos­sib­il­ity that Boehner could lose 18 votes may sound odd after Re­pub­lic­ans a week ago passed their first CR with only one de­fec­tion. But the small clutch of con­ser­vat­ives who reg­u­larly tor­ment GOP lead­er­ship ap­proved that CR only be­cause Boehner caved to their de­mands ““ spe­cific­ally that the CR in­clude lan­guage to per­man­ently de­fund Obama­care. If the second CR pro­poses any­thing less, the ques­tion won’t be wheth­er these con­ser­vat­ives jump ship ““ it will be how many go over­board with them.

TASTES LIKE CHICK­EN

Des­pite bluster from some con­ser­vat­ives, they have largely re­frained from ab­so­lut­ist state­ments that box them in­to any one po­s­i­tion. The same can­not be said for the lead­er­ship of both parties ““ nor the White House.

Boehner all but ruled out passing the Sen­ate’s clean CR on Thursday, say­ing, “I don’t see that hap­pen­ing.”

Across the Cap­it­ol a few hours later, Re­id prom­ised that any GOP pro­vi­sion aimed at dis­mant­ling Obama­care ““ in­clud­ing a re­peal of the med­ic­al device tax ““ would not pass the Sen­ate. “To be ab­so­lutely clear,” Re­id said, “We are go­ing to ac­cept noth­ing that relates to Obama­care.”

The pres­id­ent also has ruled out re­peal­ing the med­ic­al device tax. When asked Thursday wheth­er such a pro­vi­sion would be ac­cept­able in a fi­nal CR, White House press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney replied, “No. Ab­so­lutely not.”

These state­ments con­trib­ute to what can now be de­scribed as a high-stakes game of polit­ic­al chick­en. And, at the end of the day, des­pite the many de­tailed scen­ari­os swirl­ing around Cap­it­ol Hill this week­end, the en­dgame ul­ti­mately boils down to this: Either one side blinks, or the gov­ern­ment shuts down Tues­day morn­ing.

What We're Following See More »
TIME TO SPLIT
House Passes CR, Sends Bill to President’s Desk
6 hours ago
THE LATEST
CAN’T NAME ONE WORLD LEADER
Gary Johnson Stumbles Again
7 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
GOES TO PRESIDENT
Senate Approves Bill to Preserve Rape Kits
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The Senate on Wednesday approved legislation ensuring sexual assault survivors in federal criminal cases have access to forensic evidence collection kits, sending the bill to President Obama's desk. The legislation, known as the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, was passed by unanimous consent as lawmakers prepare to leave Washington until after the election. The House passed the measure earlier this month."

Source:
2-MONTH GIG OR 8-YEAR GIG?
Alec Baldwin to Play Trump on ‘SNL’
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS
STRIKES DOWN NEW HAMPSHIRE BAN
Court: Selfies in Voting Booth Now OK
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
×