WASHINGTON — In House Republicans’ closed-door meeting Tuesday morning, lawmakers began by singing a rendition of “Amazing Grace” — a hymn usually reserved for funerals.
It was a fitting kickoff for a meeting that was supposed to be where Speaker John Boehner unveiled his new plan to finally bring an end to the government shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis. Conservatives revolted, and the proposal was dead within an hour and a half.
One House Republican bemoaned the state of affairs, describing the uncertain path forward as his peers struggle to come up with a unified and coherent strategy as the debt ceiling approaches.
“They have no clue what they want. We want to get out of this but other than that, no one is on the same page about anything,” one House Republican lamented. “It’d be funny if it wasn’t so depressing.”
Indeed, rather than bringing Republicans together, the plan simply generated more demands from Boehner’s conference. A new plan, tentatively scheduled for a vote Tuesday night, scrapped several of Boehner’s initial proposals as leadership struggled to find the votes to get something, anything, through the unruly House.
“Great input from all sides, so we’ll see,” conservative Rep. Joe Wilson said. “I have faith in the leadership that they’ll listen to the members, and there were great, very constructive suggestions by members.”
Those “suggestions” ranged from demands that Congress and their staff lose their employer health insurance contribution to requests for conscience protections for employers over a birth control mandate, and seemingly everything in between.
“It was so many! It was great, different angles I would have never thought of. There were so many, it’s hard to keep them all on track,” Wilson said.
Some Republicans sought to put as positive of a spin on the debacle as possible.
“Oh my gosh, we have lit up Obamacare for the whole nation,” Rep. Andy Harris said. “The rollout was an atrocious, fundamentally flawed plan, and we have made it crystal clear to the American public that we stand with them on Obamacare … People [back home] say look, just keep it up. We have to fight spending, we have to fight the Affordable Care Act. They want us to fight big government.”
But even Boehner, who’d hoped going into the meeting that by adding a few sweeteners to the outlines of the Senate plan he could bring his conference along, was seemingly at a loss.
“There are a lot of opinions about what direction to go. There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do. But we’re going to continue to work with our members on both sides of the aisle to try to make sure that there’s no issue of default and to get our government reopened,” Boehner told reporters with his signature “Boehner shrug,” a sure signal to veteran Congress watchers that things had not gone according to plan.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” one House Republican aide said as leadership delayed a set of planned votes for Tuesday afternoon as they scrambled to find a way forward.
But whatever gets done, at least for now it’s on the shoulders of Boehner and his leadership team to figure it out as Senate Republicans are quickly — one might say gleefully — throwing the ticking time bomb of the debt ceiling into their laps.
“I don’t think there’s going to be much in the way of Senate negotiations today as we wait to see what might be cobbled together [in the House],” Sen. Bob Corker told reporters following Senate Republicans’ weekly luncheon.
“There’s a sense that if you continue in earnest over here, what you may be doing is undermining what’s happening over there. I think that’s probably a sensible thought,” Corker said, adding that Republicans wish Boehner all the luck in the world.
“We all hope they do [succeed]. The one thing we all left [lunch] with is the hope and the desire that the House gets to 218 votes to pass the bill,” Corker said.
Asked about House Republicans’ refusal to back Boehner’s plan, Sen. Bob Corker said, half-jokingly, “I don’t want to make editorial comments … I don’t want to make it harder, not that I could even. I don’t know how it could.”
“I did think what they were proposing was pretty sane policy that, worked with a little bit over here, probably could have become law. It’s interesting that we find ourselves in this place,” he added.
“We want to see them move something … we encourage them to advance a bill,” Sen. John Hoeven said Tuesday afternoon.
Asked if it was time for Republicans to come to terms with a pragmatic approach to the crisis, Hoeven said simply, “Yeah, in terms of what we can get done now. Again, that’s why on the Senate side … there’s really a consensus of wanting to be supportive of the House getting something done.”