The Great CR Debate of 2013
With the debt-ceiling fight looming, GOP lawmakers tussle over how best to fight Obamacare.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor


At a House vote Tuesday, McCarthy had conducted the initial whip count to gauge where the conference was, and a significant majority of the House was on board with Cantor’s plan. Lots of Republicans hadn’t understood the plan at first, but many had come around when they heard more information.

But there were pockets of significant opposition. A Texas congressman says he couldn’t believe some of his fellow Texans who were against the proposal, given that Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, was helping lead the push.

Representative Jim Jordan, meanwhile, was on his cell phone. The Ohio Republican, a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, remains highly influential among conservatives, and he was teaming up with Representative Tom Graves of Georgia to chart another course on the matter. Jordan and Graves started to rally the troops against Cantor with a flurry of phone calls and meetings. The two began to get traction for using the CR to try to delay Obamacare for one year, a middle point between the Cantor plan and Lee’s desire to defund Obamacare.

At Wednesday-morning meetings between the leadership and conservatives — Jordan, Graves, Republican Study Committee chairman Steve Scalise, Luke Messer, and others were present — the discussion shifted. The two parties talked about ditching the Cantor plan and crafting a “unity bill,” a proposal they could all get behind. Around noon, Cantor faced the music and agreed to delay the vote, originally scheduled for Thursday, until at least next week.

At an RSC meeting at 12:30, members broke into roughly two camps, Campell says: those who wanted to use the CR to defund or delay Obamacare, and those who were open to bypassing the CR as long as leadership promised to use the upcoming debt-ceiling fight to go after the health-care law.

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, part of a self-described “Jedi Council” of five conservatives who often advise leadership, was in the latter camp, urging colleagues to focus on the larger picture.

Later that day, Speaker John Boehner, who had been curiously absent from the discussions up until then, gave an offhand remark to reporters that revealed a surprisingly lackadaisical attitude about the intra-party battle. Asked if he had a new idea for funding the government, Boehner laughed and said no, according to Politico’s Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan. “Do you have an idea?” he asked. “They’ll just shoot it down anyway.”

Behind the scenes, the efforts to sell the plan had been all Cantor’s. “Whenever you heard around town that this plan was being pushed, it was always by the Cantor office,” says a GOP aide who supports the new Graves plan. “You never heard, ‘Hey I’m getting calls from the Boehner shop,’ or, ‘Hey, McCarthy’s guy is really leaning on me.’ You never heard that.”

By Thursday, it was becoming increasingly clear to the wider world that Cantor’s plan would at least have to be tweaked.

In a House-floor colloquy with Democratic whip Steny Hoyer, Cantor revealed that the House may cancel the recess scheduled for the last week of September. To insiders, the interpretation was obvious: We’re going to be in a spending showdown with Democrats over the CR that culminates September 30, when the law that currently funds the government will expire.

Boehner, in his weekly on-camera press briefing, drove a nail into the Cantor plan’s coffin. “Your conference rejected your latest proposal . . . ” began MSNBC’s Luke Russert.

“Not quite yet,” said Boehner, prompting chuckles from the reporters.

Later that day, Graves formally introduced his plan to push for a one-year Obamacare delay with 42 co-sponsors. Overnight, the list grew by seven.

Leadership is still pushing for Graves, Jordan, and others to focus on the upcoming debt-ceiling fight as the better opportunity to extract a GOP victory, so look for discussions in this all-important week to focus as much on that fight as on the CR.

While the situation remains fluid, the pervasive sentiment among Republicans is that Boehner and Obama are headed into a major confrontation over the CR, which will probably illuminate which would have been the better course: Graves’s ambition or Cantor’s prudence.

— Jonathan Strong is a political reporter for National Review Online.