Senior House Republicans are increasingly persuaded the government shutdown could last weeks and will only be resolved in a major bipartisan accord involving a funding bill and a debt-ceiling increase.
On the first day of the shutdown, President Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid only hardened their unwillingness to negotiate with the GOP. For example, Obama threatening to veto rifle-shot funding bills, to keep specific branches of government funded, backed by dozens of Democrats on the House floor.
In the meantime, despite a small bloc of moderates indicating they would happily vote for a “clean” continuing resolution to fund the government without any preconditions, the House GOP conference is remaining steadfast.
At a closed-door conference meeting earlier today, Speaker John Boehner gave a pep-rally-style speech signaling he isn’t about to fold his hand.
“We’re in this fight. This is the moment. We all talk about doing something for our kids and our grandkids. If you want to do something for them, now is the time. We have to work together and win this fight,” Boehner told members, according to a Republican in the room.
“I can’t imagine we’re going to resolve” the shutdown before the upcoming fight on raising the debt ceiling, Representative John Campbell of California says.
“Think about it — if they decided they were ready to talk by next week, you’re not going to negotiate the thing overnight. It’s going to take a little time,” he adds.
“The real problem is, we may have gotten ourselves into a position where we can’t budge on a clean CR and they can’t budge on Obamacare. Then what do you do?” says Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho, a top Boehner ally. When I ask how long he expected the shutdown to last, Simpson says “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I don’t know.”
House Republicans by and large say they believe they are on solid political footing in demanding a conference committee to negotiate over the last bill they sent to the Senate, which included a relatively modest demand to delay Obamacare’s individual mandate for one year and eliminate an Obamacare subsidy for lawmakers and their staffs.
“It’s kind of sad to me, quite frankly, that they can say ‘we’re not going to meet face-to-face, we’re not going to do this.’ I think eventually that bites you at the end,” says Representative James Lankford of Oklahoma, the fifth-ranking member of the House leadership. “It kind of violates the Constitution, quite frankly. It also violates just the basic convention of how you resolve things,” he adds.
Worsening the already poisonous relationship between Republican and Democratic congressional leaders was a story that appeared in Politico featuring leaked e-mails from Boehner’s chief of staff, Mike Sommers.
The story detailed Boehner’s work to address confusion over how Obamacare would apply to lawmakers and congressional staffers, which now appears hypocritical given his full-fledged embrace of the GOP’s current proposal to eliminate the subsidy the executive branch decided to provide. One of the story’s more damning details was an e-mail from Sommers about how Boehner’s office could help lie about the purpose of a planned meeting with Obama on the subject.
But Republicans close to the process argue vehemently that the e-mails — leaked by Reid’s pugilistic chief of staff, David Krone — mischaracterize Boehner’s role.
For example, a senior lawmaker said internal conversations about the matter focused on Boehner’s efforts to resist a legislative fix to exempt lawmakers and staff and that the Ohio Republican personally came up with and championed in July the strategy of using the issue in a spending showdown over a funding bill or the debt ceiling.
“The only memory I have of him talking about this is about how we could screw them with it,” says a Republican House member.
The leak also deeply angered the class of senior GOP aides who interact with their Democratic counterparts in high-stakes negotiations over issues such as the debt ceiling.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before. I don’t know how David thinks anyone on either side of the aisle will ever be able to work with him again. I guess this is part of Harry Reid’s plan: He refuses to talk with Republicans so I guess his chief of staff figures he doesn’t need to be able to do so either,” says one longtime senior GOP aide.
“He’s a low-rent, self-dealing bagman,” a second senior GOP aide says.
Krone, for his part, is undeterred.
“Every time one of these anonymous Republican aides takes a look at their paycheck, I hope they remember it was Harry Reid who protected their employer contribution,” he tells National Review Online in a statement.
“They and their bosses are welcome to return it if they’re so outraged. I took the action I did because I refuse to stand by and watch those who pressed for this ruling turn around and attack the very thing they asked for, simply because they don’t have the courage to stand up to a few whiners in their caucus. Integrity means owning in public what you advocate for in private,” Krone adds.
On the House floor today, Republicans brought a series of rifle-shot appropriations bills to fund parts of the government that are most likely to show up on the cable news as outward impacts of the shutdown. Brought under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority for passage, the bills were defeated by Democratic opposition.
Tomorrow, Republicans will offer the same bills through the normal procedure, which requires only a majority for passage. They are also considering passing full appropriations bills that would fund entire departments, according to Representative Pete Sessions.