When the Senate passes its bill to avoid a government shutdown and continue the status quo, the House will have just two or three days to pass it and avoid a shutdown.
But Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) signaled the House won’t accept that bill. “I do not see that happening,” he told reporters on Thursday.
He declined to reveal what the House would do instead. “There are options that’ll be available to us,” Boehner said. He refused to concede that there’s a good chance of a shutdown, which would occur next Tuesday at midnight when the new fiscal year begins.
But if he ditches the Senate bill it’s hard to envision how a shutdown can be avoided. First there’s the question of what changes he’ll make to Senate Democrats’ “clean” continuing resolution, which is poised to pass the chamber on Saturday, and whether that’ll be acceptable to Democrats. The House will be able to speedily pass a continuing resolution. But the Senate will require unanimous consent to fast-track it to a vote, even it Democratic leaders support it, which will be trickier.
“If anyone here thinks Republicans in the House have a workable plan to avert a shutdown Monday, tell me about it,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Tuesday. “We’ll have to see what they decide to do. We don’t know.”
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel offered no clues. “I have confidence in the ability of the Senate to act with the necessary alacrity” after the House reacts, he said.
Conscious that time was running out, Reid asked for consent Thursday afternoon to move up Friday’s cloture vote to Thursday evening, in order to finish the bill one day earlier. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), a leader in the push to defund Obamacare, objected and blocked his request.
“This is a big, big charade,” said Reid.
An outside possibility is that Boehner secretly wants a shutdown in order to achieve sufficient political cover to keep the government funded and — more crucially — a default on the nation’s debt when the borrowing limit is reached on Oct. 17. In the event of a shutdown, Republican obstruction would be brought to the forefront of national news, and Boehner would be able to say he tried it conservatives’ way, but that failed, so it’s time re-open the government — and while they’re at it, avoid the impending default. The closure of federal services would raise the pressure on GOP lawmakers to give in, or at least refrain from trying to topple the Speaker.
All Boehner would have to do is put a bill on the House floor to cleanly fund the government and lift the debt ceiling so the government can pay its bills. For their troubles, Republicans may force red state Senate Democrats to vote against provisions their conservative constituents support.
The conservative base is desperate to chip away at Obamacare and enact other reforms. They see the impending deadlines as their only leverage to force a Democratic White House and Senate to go along. But President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have repeatedly vowed not to negotiate on the debt limit, and they’re not flinching in the face of the House GOP attaching a swath of conservative goodies to it.
“The House is attaching the Republican Party platform to the debt ceiling,” said No. 3 Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY). “In a week full of absurdities, this takes the cake.”
Top Senate Democratic aides have no idea what Boehner has up his sleeve.
“None — he throws a different flavor of spaghetti against the wall every day,” said one aide.