WASHINGTON— John Boehner has succeeded in rallying House Republicans around a single goal — an accomplishment that has eluded him for months, if not years.
The plan that has his conference so excited: passing funding resolution that the Senate and President Obama will assuredly reject, resulting in a government shutdown on Monday.
“We are 100 percent unified because we are doing the right things for the right reasons. Everyone said, ‘let’s vote!’ And I said, like on 9/11, ‘Let’s roll!’” said Texas Rep. John Culberson, making a reference to passenger Todd Bremer’s famous statement aboard the hijacked United 93 flight on September 11th.
“Ulysses S. Grant used to say, ‘Boys, quit worrying about what Bobby Lee is doing.’ I’m worried about what we’re doing and that’s where the House is today,” Culberson said of the Senate. “We’re going to quit worrying about what those other guys are doing and focus on what we are doing. Which is what Grant did, which ultimately led to the victory of the federal army [in the battle].”
After initially sending over to the Senate a funding measure that completely defunded President Obama’s health care law (a provision stripped by Senate Democrats and sent back to the House), Boehner’s next plan is to attach a one-year delay of the law and repeal of the medical device tax.
Never mind that Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the Senate will reject any plan that delays or defunds Obamacare. The House GOP fully believes they might be able to force Senate Democrats, especially electorally vulnerable ones, into supporting their plan. Additionally, a majority of Senators support device tax repeal. And if the congressional game of hot potato continues and a shutdown occurs, the hope of House Republicans is that Reid and Democrats will get caught with the blame.
“We will do our job and send this bill over, and then it’s up to the Senate to pass it and stop a government shutdown,” Boehner said in a statement.
It was the best scenario for Boehner, who had tried and failed to convince the Tea Party faction of his conference to save their leverage over Obamacare for a debt ceiling fight in October and come up with a way to get a “clean” funding bill through the Senate. When conservatives rebelled, Boehner changed course, attaching the defunding measure to the bill. But going into the weekend none of his options looked very good. He could have, with mostly Democratic support, allowed a clean resolution to pass the House, but that would have likely meant the end of his speakership. He could have re-attached the defunding measure to the bill and sent it over to the Senate again, ensuring a shutdown, but even the most conservative Republicans conceded that battle plan would have been politically treacherous.
But the new plan has the support of everyone from the most hardline Tea Partier to moderate Republicans who have been publicly fretting over the political ramifications for the party in the event of a shutdown.
“We have the medical device tax, which we know a great majority of Democrats agree with us on. They are going to get a delay on the law the president keeps delaying. You have a lot of Democratic senators running for re-election that are probably worried about what the implementation is going to be like,” said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a Boehner ally who thought the defund-Obamacare strategy was a dangerous play.
Likewise, conservative members were thrilled with what Boehner had presented to them. Reporters outside their closed-door conference meeting could hear cheers and yelps from the room.
“I think it’s a win for leadership. I think it unifies us. And I think one of the goals of leadership is they want and need us to be unified and on the same message,” said Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston. “I don’t think Harry Reid wants to shut down the government, but if Harry Reid shuts down the government there’s nothing we can do to stop him.”
So convinced are House Republicans that they might win the fight, Rep. Darrell Issa became incensed when a reporter asked if there was a next step for the House was when the Senate inevitably rejects the bill.
Members emerging from the meeting were downright jubilant. Smiles and thumbs up were flashed to the cameras and hoards of reporters waiting outside.
“It’s good, it’s good stuff. Everyone is going to vote for it,” said Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, who regularly votes against leadership.
“They’re listening, it’s wonderful. Sometimes leadership is about telling people what to do, sometimes it’s listening,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, a frequent Boehner critic. “Every time we vote for conservative principles, the conference is united. Everytime we kind of move away from that, we divide the conference.”
Democrats, meanwhile, have no plans to budge. Reid has repeatedly said he’ll reject a continuing resolution with anything attached to it. He repeated that call on Saturday.
“To be absolutely clear, the Senate will reject both the one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of the medical device tax. After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at square one: Republicans must decide whether to pass the Senate’s clean CR, or force a Republican government shutdown,” Reid said in a statement, adding that “the American people will not be extorted by Tea Party anarchists.”
With such little time left and because the House is voting on Saturday night, the Senate could conceivably return on Sunday to take up the bill. But a senior Democratic aide said there was no immediate change in plan to come back into session before Monday.
“We are not playing games. House Republicans’ only way out is to pass the Senate’s clean CR or shut down the government,” the aide said.