Boehner’s Backup Plan In Government Shutdown Fight

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March 7, 2013 10:06 a.m.
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There’s a new ripple in the still-simmering dispute between the parties over funding the government before appropriations expire at the end of the month.

At his weekly Capitol briefing Thursday, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) once again warned Senate Democrats not to make too many — if any — changes to the government funding bill the House passed on Wednesday. But this time he revealed that he has a backup plan.“If Senate Democrats try to load up this bill with extraneous provisions, partisan riders, budget gimmicks, we will be prepared to move a clean continuing resolution through the end of the fiscal year,” he said. “I would urge Democrat leaders in the Senate to not get greedy and get carried away and try to put forward a possibility of a government shutdown.”

Setting aside the fact that recent government shutdown fights have been the consequence of Boehner’s members larding up spending bills with extraneous provisions and partisan riders, his warning carries both substantive and strategic significance.

Substantively, he’s saying Republicans will sooner deep-six their efforts to protect key defense programs from the full impact of sequestration than support a government funding bill that provides broadly similar protections to domestic priorities. That’s key. He’d rather punish conservative priorities than give liberal priorities equal treatment.

But that’s largely distinct from his legislative strategy. When the Senate takes up the House-passed CR next week, Republicans will likely prevent Democrats from amending the bill in such a way that it creates problems for Boehner within his conference when it returns to the House.

If they fail, though — if House Republicans reject even modest changes, or Democrats peel off just enough Republican support and pull the bill substantially to the left — Boehner’s saying he has a plan.

Confronted with a bill his conference doesn’t support, he won’t put it on the floor and pass it with mostly Democratic votes. Instead he’ll put a “clean” continuing resolution on the floor — no special treatment for anybody — and try to jam the Senate right back.

Now there’s no guarantee Boehner could pass a clean CR. And if a clean CR failed to clear the House, he’d genuinely have to choose between writing off the majority of his conference yet again, or shutting down the government. But if it were to pass, it would create a stand off between the House and Senate over which chamber’s government funding bill ought to carry the day. And if neither chamber budged before March 27, the government would shut down.

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