#Cliffgate: Are You Really Betting On The Tea Party To Stop A Shutdown?
A government shutdown and #cliffgate may still not occur.
But those who are discounting the chances of it happening have far more confidence in the willingness of the tea party wing of the House GOP to act rationally at the last minute as its dreams of being seen as uncompromising and defiant are close to being realized than I do.
Here's why will it be up to the tea party wing and not, as many others are saying, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to decide whether a shutdown occurs.
Now that the House has passed a continuing resolution that the Senate won't accept because it defunds Obamacare, the budget process choreography for the coming week will be as follows:
- The Senate will begin to debate the House-passed CR on Monday or Tuesday.
- The Senate is likely to strip out the defunding provision.
- The Senate may increase the spending level from what the House included in its version of the CR.
- Senate Republicans may filibuster the CR and, therefore, bear the responsibility for the bill not being enacted by the start of the fiscal year and, therefore, for the shutdown.
- But, in one of the great legislative ironies in American history, Senate parliamentary procedures will force the GOP to filibuster the House-passed CR that defunds Obamacare. In other words, Senate Republicans technically will be preventing what they say they actually want to happen from being adopted.
- If the filibuster doesn't happen, the Senate is not likely to send whatever CR it passes back to the House until next Thursday, September 26, at the earliest.
- If there is a filibuster and cloture is invoked, the Senate-passed bill may not get back to the House until the 28th or 29th of September, that is, just two days before a shutdown will begin.
So, with no more than four days to go, House Republicans will be faced with the choice of forcing a showdown over Obamacare by shutting down the government or backing down after getting the equivalent of a legislative middle finger from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the other Senate Democrats.
They would likely pick the shutdown if the decision had to be made today, that is, a week before the fiscal year begins.
But t's hard to imagine that there will be an enhanced sense of compromise a week from now after all sides undoubtedly have said things that are less- than-pleasant about each other and emotions are particularly high.
This especially will be the case if the Senate increases spending over the House-passed levels AND strips out the defunding provision. If that happens the CR sent to the House by the Senate will be anathema to the tea party and it will have virtually no choice but to refuse to accept the legislation even if it means a shutdown on October 1 becomes all but certain.
A shutdown under these circumstances would likely be blamed on Republicans. But that might not be a big political problem for the tea partiers in the House because their base -- those who vote in Republican primaries -- may well prefer that to anything that looks and sounds like collaborating with the enemy.
This is a different scenario that the one that puts Boehner in charge as the clock begins to strike midnight on fiscal 2013 next Monday. Some reports have said that Boehner will do what he has done before and work with House Democrats and a handful of GOP moderates in his caucus to pass something that prevents the shutdown from happening.
The problem with that analysis is that it misses the key point: Boehner has only been able to work with House Democrats on some budget bills in the past because his caucus -- mainly his tea partiers -- gave him permission to do that.
Boehner held firm until the last possible minute to demonstrate to his TPers that he was willing to go to the mat for them. That's when they in effect told him they would not oppose his efforts to get votes from across the aisle.
Three things make that less likely this time.
First, Boehner's tea partiers seem to be far more militant and less likely to grant him that permission to work with Democrats this time around. Remember, it was the tea party wing that forced Boehner to go with a CR that defunded Obamacare in the first place.
Second, it's not at all clear that House Democrats will be as willing to provide the votes Boehner needs this time as they have been in the past. At the very least they are likely to demand something more from Boehner for their votes, and anything they want -- like the Senate-passed higher fiscal 2014 spending level -- will probably make it impossible for Boehner to work with them.
Third, as noted above, it's not clear that the tea partiers fear the political ramifications of a shutdown. Indeed, their base and, therefore, they may welcome it.
All of this points to a very basic fact about what's ahead this week: Boehner may be the speaker, but it's the tea party members of the GOP caucus that will be in charge and deternine whether a shutdown occurs.