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October 15, 2013 3:44 PM Boehner’s Moment of Truth Approaches

By Ed Kilgore

This report from Salon’s Brian Beutler, which echoes others, indicates that any idea John Boehner had of supplanting a nearly-done Senate deal with his own is falling apart:

It didn’t take Democrats long to react to the House GOP debt limit plan, and thus for Boehner to begin dragging the outline to the right, aware that it will either pass with 217 Republican votes, or fail completely, leaving him at the mercy of the Senate.
Harry Reid called the House GOP position “a blatant attack on bipartisanship” and vowed that it “won’t pass the Senate.” Boehner is already reacting, scrounging for more GOP votes by promising to stick it to Congressional staff. National Review’s Robert Costa reports that Boehner is reversing his position that aides should be held harmless in this fight, and will agree to nix the federal government’s contribution to their health insurance as well. It could move further right still. And as before it may not pass anyhow.

The “stick it to Congressional staff” bit is a reference to the Vitter Amendment, that demagogic favorite of the Defunding Obamacare crowd which bans the federal health insurance subsidies that would have been made available after a Republican amendment to the Affordable Care Act forced Members of Congress, their staffs, and executive-branch political appointees into the Obamacare exchanges. The initial Boehner proposal, which I’ve called Vitter Lite, would have applied the provision only to principals, not staff. So restoring the original language is a trophy for the Right and a concession that this proposal will in no way be “bipartisan.”

So now the path forward has three forks: (1) Boehner can’t pass a bill, and the Senate deal comes alive again as the only game in town; (2) Boehner passes a bill with virtually no Democratic support and then carries the country into a debt limit breach (possibly by adjourning the House, according to one rumor this morning); and (3) Boehner passes a bill that is rejected promptly by the Senate and then caves and lets the House enact the Senate deal with Democratic votes, having “made his point.”

The speed and certainty of the Democratic response to Boehner’s bid helpfully accelerated the Speaker’s moment of truth.

UPDATE: There’s another route Boehner could take that some have mentioned: Boehner could propose an unconditional short-term debt limit increase without addressing the government shutdown and then hold tight and hope fears of a default will force the Senate and the White House to go along. But the now widespread anticipation that the government shutdown will end with a debt limit deal would ensure that House GOPers would receive 100% of the blame for the continued shutdown, instead of the 60-70% or so they bear now.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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