Senate Republicans Look to Jam Boehner

Returning from their White House meeting with President Obama, some Republican senators said they are fed up with how Speaker John Boehner and the House GOP have handled the shutdown showdown and are ready to take charge of the debate.

“The House Republicans so far don’t want to get rid of the shutdown. I don’t know in what world we’re faring well under the shutdown, in terms of policy or politics. So, in that sense, yeah, I’d rather have the Senate” take charge, says Arizona senator Jeff Flake.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine is leading negotiations with Democrats over a bill to combine a government funding bill with the debt-ceiling increase along with repeal of the medical-device tax in Obamacare. House Republican leaders have shown a new sense of urgency to deal with Obama in part because of fear that Collins’s plan will gain steam, rolling the more conservative House position.

One scenario that would mirror how several standoffs between Boehner and Obama have ended since Republicans took control of the House in 2010 is for Senate Republicans to help pass a bill deeply disliked by House Republicans, after which political pressure would force Boehner to pass the bill largely with Democratic votes.

While the situation is tense, it does not appear acrimonious, and communication continues between top officials from both chambers. Senator Rob Portman said he met with House Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp last night after Camp attended the House session at the White House, and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said he had dinner with a House “principal” who had been at the session as well.

“There’s a lot of communication that’s taking place between both sides of the building,” Corker says.

“I think the Collins plan has had an impact here. I think people are intrigued by that plan as a way forward. On the House side, they’re having discussions too. Hopefully this merges at some point,” says Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska.

Although Flake and others indicated they want the Senate to take a lead role, Senator Dan Coats said their role will be limited given they are in the minority in the upper chamber.

“I think clearly the House is in the position where, given the divided government that we have, whatever’s proffered, if it can’t sell in the House, it’s not gonna sell. So, it doesn’t mean the Senate doesn’t have a role to play, but it’s a less major role than what the House has, for sure,” Coats says.

Collins presented her plan to Obama at the meeting, senators say. Obama offered comments but did not endorse it. The president is cold to the six-week extension to the debt ceiling Boehner has put forward and pushed the Senate Republicans on the issue. “The longer the better,” Flake says, characterizing Obama’s view.

The Senate Republicans’ meeting was described as “wide open” and lasted well beyond the hour that had been scheduled, although GOP whip John Cornyn attributed that to “long-winded people, Senators included.”

Obama indicated, as he has in public, that he is willing to address flaws in Obamacare but not in the current context of negotiating over the debt ceiling or government funding bill.

Graham says at one point he told Obama that he can’t expect Congress to surrender its constitutional authority on spending matters.

“I understand where you’re coming from, protecting the presidency,” Graham says, characterizing his remarks to Obama, “but you can’t tell the Congress, ‘You will reopen the government, you will pass a continuing resolution and you will pass the debt ceiling, and then I will talk to you.’”

“As a body, we can’t give that authority away. We can’t be told by the executive branch of the government that ‘you have to do what I say when it comes to how you fund the government and raising the debt ceiling.’ That’s not healthy for future Congresses. The whole check and balance situation will be undermined there,” Graham adds.

In another part of the discussion, Graham says, Obama and the senators discussed legislation to “repatriate” overseas income from U.S. corporations as one way to replace the sequester spending cuts enacted in the Budget Control Act.

Senator John Hoeven says House Republicans are discussing entitlement reforms as part of the negotiating framework they sent to the White House last night.  

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