Capitol Hill is still consumed with small questions: What exact form will the CR take? How could Ted Cruz stand so long without going to the bathroom?
But no one seems to have an answer for how Republicans and Democrats will bridge the massive chasm between their positions on the debt ceiling, a far more weighty issue than a short government shutdown.
The Democrats’ position is at odds with recent history. Obama has previously negotiated over the issue, for one.
And the notion that House Republicans will pass a “clean” debt ceiling bill is pure fantasy.
The current bill House leadership has put together to garner the necessary votes to pass it on the floor with only Republican support is breathtaking in its scope, combining a one-year Obamacare delay, tax-reform instructions, entitlement reforms, and a grab bag of controversial anti-regulatory bills.
And it still ran into significant resistance from the right flank of Speaker John Boehner’s conference for not containing enough spending cuts.
At a Republican Study Committee meeting, Representative Tom Price of Georgia, a former chairman of the group, delivered a passionate defense of the plan, as did Majority Leader Eric Cantor. But Texas representative Joe Barton led dissenters who argued it didn’t focus enough on reducing spending of entitlement programs in line with the “Williamsburg Accord,” an agreement reached between Boehner and conservatives at the GOP’s retreat last January, which extended the debt ceiling temporarily.
Other conservatives are resisting the bill, for now, because they want to see the CR fight play out, not wanting to interfere with Senator Ted Cruz’s battle in the upper chamber.
There were signs of hope for the bill. Representative Michele Bachmann, for instance, who has never once voted for a debt-ceiling increase, told me she would support it. But the fact that even the current bill is something of a lift speaks volumes.
Strangely, neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to be particularly concerned.
“Don’t overreact. Don’t get too nervous. When I get nervous, I’ll let you know,” said one senior GOP member.
Hoyer says that 190 House Democrats are ready to vote for a clean debt-ceiling bill. “That means the Republicans only need 28 responsible people on their side of the aisle to vote,” he says.
That’s true, but it would also likely bring about the end of Boehner’s tenure as speaker, making him unlikely to opt for it.
Both Republicans and Democrats have said publicly there are zero conversations between the two parties taking place behind the scenes to resolve the issue.
It’s a high-stakes blinking contest both sides think they can win.
— Jonathan Strong is a political reporter for National Review Online.