House GOP Pushes The Envelope In Shutdown, Payroll Tax Fight

Late Wednesday night — in the early hours of Thursday morning, really — House Republicans decided to go all in on the latest government shutdown fight.

Testing the limits of compliance with their own rule that legislation be posted online for three days before a final vote, GOP leaders, over White House objections, unveiled major appropriations legislation that must pass by Friday at the stroke of midnight if Congress is to avoid a government shutdown.

The move raises one key question for each party. Can Republicans pass these appropriations on their own, if Democrats stick to their guns and withhold their votes. And, if the GOP succeeds, will Senate Democrats and President Obama hold their ground and block the legislation until a key policy issues are addressed, and the parties reach agreement on the separate issue of how to extend the current payroll tax cut into next year.Republicans contend that there’s bipartisan support for the appropriations measures, and sources on both sides of the aisle confirm that both GOP and Democratic principals had all but signed off on the legislation, pending resolution of a few picayune objections. But Harry Reid and the White House say those issues must be resolved before the government funding gets the green light.

To the Democrats’ credit, they can name their points of objection — including a funding cut to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and a reimposition of a restrictions on travel to Cuba. And they’ve argued that the House should pass a brief stopgap funding measure instead, to buy leaders more time to work out differences on both the appropriations and payroll tax cut fronts.

But there’s another strategic consideration at play here. Democrats know that if the appropriations bills pass, and the government is funded through September, Republicans will scatter to their states and districts for the holidays, handing Senate Dems a take-it-or-leave-it proposition on the House GOP’s payroll tax cut bill, which includes pay-fors and a Keystone XL oil pipeline rider many Democrats oppose — and which drew a veto threat from President Obama. If that happens, and Dems refused to swallow it whole, the payroll tax cut — along with extended unemployment benefits, and a patch to prevent Medicare doctors from experiencing a big pay cut — will all expire on January 1.

That’s where we are at with just over 36 hours until a shutdown.