For the first time in the two-week history of the shutdown, morning arrives with a compromise on resolving the budget fight agreed to by both Democrats and Republicans. Under the looming shadow of government default, there are still a number of boxes that need to be checked before crisis is averted.
It's worth remembering at this point that the dispute over the budget and the debt ceiling is an entirely manufactured point of tension. Its resolution isn't contingent upon well-hashed policy considerations — what the best-case budget for the country looks like, for example — but instead on the raw politics of a deal. All of the remaining checkpoints that need to be reached are simple vote-counting: Can leaders of both parties get enough votes lined up to pass something? And, more importantly, can they do so before Thursday, the point at which Treasury Secretary Jack Lew projects the government will be unable to pay its bills?
Here's what needs to happen — as soon as possible.
Come up with a compromise proposal in the Senate.
This one is done, at long last. As we outlined on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came to agreement on a package that would do five things.
- 1. Reopen the government at 2013 funding levels until the middle of January.
- 2. Suspend the debt ceiling until early February.
- 3. Add an income verification system to the Obamacare healthcare exchanges.
- 4. Postpone an Obamacare-related fee for one year.
- 5. Mandate a conference between the House and Senate to work out a longer-term deal by the middle of December.
Update, 9:30 a.m.: There's at least one report that the fourth provision, dealing with reinsurance, may be dropped.
Get general sign-off from the House Republicans.
On Tuesday morning, House Republican leaders went into caucus with their members to discuss the proposal — and determine what, if any, changes the group wants to see. According to The National Review's Robert Costa, Republican leaders plan to introduce their own bill on Tuesday, the details of which aren't yet clear.
In July, The Washington Post outlined the subgroups of the Republican caucus. Boehner can probably count on support from the majority of his caucus. But, as we've noted in the past, he's been able to rely on that majority for quite some time.
According to Politico, Boehner's sales pitch may hinge on the fifth point above: the conference over the budget that allows the party to pick up the fight over Obamacare (and whatever else) over the next few weeks.
Some in leadership believe there is some win for Republicans in this proposal. Ryan gets his budget conference and Republicans get the government reopened and the debt ceiling lifted for a short period of time, instead of the yearlong increase Democrats were seeking. Republicans also get to the government funding and debt ceiling fight separate, as conservatives wanted.
Update, 9:30 a.m.: More information on the House proposal from Costa: It will likely include a version of the so-called Vitter amendment that moves members of Congress and the Cabinet to health care provided through an Obamacare exchange — but not their staff. It also includes a repeal of the medical device tax, discussed below, and the other provisions from the Senate proposal (except #4).
Pacify or ignore the House Tea Party caucus.
But as everyone knows, it's not the mainstream Republicans that Boehner needs to worry about — it's the far-right Tea Party caucus that led the party into its deeply unpopular shutdown strategy. And it's that caucus that could stir up enough grassroots fury that a compromise could be imperiled.
The pot-stirrer in late September was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who met with the House conservatives in an effort to coordinate the Obamacare-prompted shutdown. On Monday night, Roll Call reports, Cruz again met with the Tea Party caucus at a sticky Mexican restaurant behind the House office buildings. "The group appeared to be talking strategy about how they should respond to a tentative Senate deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling without addressing Obamacare in a substantive way, according to sources who witnessed the gathering."
And sure enough, Tuesday morning brings a report from Costa that the insurgency is on.
A flurry of phone calls and meetings last night and early this morning led the consensus among the approximately 50 Republicans who form the House GOP’s right flank. They’re furious with Senate Republicans for working with Democrats to craft what one leading Tea Party congressman calls a “mushy piece of s—t.” Another House conservative warns, “If Boehner backs this, as is, he’s in trouble.”
Boehner has two options: Allow a stronger anti-Obamacare amendment to the bill or push a vote despite that discontent. The first tactic is what he tried on September 30, and is why his party's poll numbers are now in the low teens. And any amendment aimed at severely curtailing Obamacare would almost certainly be doomed in the Senate. One possible middle ground option: a delay to the medical device tax, which could let House Republicans say they tightened the anti-Obamacare provisions. This is what The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza thinks is a likely counter — but it's not clear it will pacify the Tea Partiers.
This is the ballgame, really: whether or not Boehner will move forward without far-right support.
Pass the compromise in the House.
If he does, and has enough votes for the compromise or an amended compromise, the vote will go to the House floor. If Boehner wants to push for an expedited process, skipping the standard Rules Committee process, he'll need two-thirds of the House to support the plan. (He can probably assume the vast majority of Democrats will support his doing so.) With only hours remaining before the threat of default beomce imminent — and in order to protect his political strength — Boehner will want to get at least a majority of his caucus on his side, ASAP.
Avoid derailment in the Senate.
Whatever passes out of the House, an amended compromise or not, there's still the question of what happens in the Senate. On Monday, we noted that any senator who wishes to do so could significantly gum up the works of a compromise at will. Will Cruz block any proposal in the Senate? He's noncommital about not doing so. If he were to do so, it would be one of the more politically brazen moves in American history — being the solitary person between the United States government and a debt default. Unfortunately, that's the sort of position that almost certainly appeals to Cruz.
If he (and no one else) stands in the way, it's safe to assume the original compromise will pass the Senate fairly easily.
If necessary: One more vote in either or both bodies.
If the House amends the compromise, there will need to be one more back-and-forth as the two bodies pass legislation that either accepts or removes that compromise. Both chambers need to pass the same legislation in order for the president to sign it.
Get the president's signature on it.
Which is the final step. There's no reason to think that the president wouldn't sign the Harry Reid-negotiated compromise. And even a lightly amended bill would probably meet with his approval, given that his Democratic caucus on the Hill would have already approved it.
Get ready to do this all again in a month.
And then, with crisis (hopefully) averted and the government reopened, the House and Senate head into conference to work out a longer-term budget deal. And we can simply uncheck all of these boxes, and start over again from the beginning.