The Corner

Boehner Searches for Votes

After a relatively calm conference meeting this morning, Speaker John Boehner is moving forward with his new fiscal strategy, which slightly revises the bipartisan framework being discussed in the Senate. But he’s treading carefully. According to his allies, he’s still hoping to bring the House’s plan to the floor tonight, and he thinks it can pass, as long as a few elements of the proposal are adjusted. The 218 votes he needs, though, aren’t there yet, and he and his team are spending the afternoon informally whipping skeptical Republicans.

One major development: The delay of the medical-device tax, which was part of Boehner’s proposal earlier today, is now out of the package, according to sources close to the internal House GOP deliberations. Conservatives complained today that delaying the tax would be “crony capitalism” and they can’t sell it to the Republican base as a viable Republican win. 

But that swift change hasn’t stalled the GOP’s push for a Tuesday vote. “The leaders are giving us one more chance to get something passed out of the House before the Senate does its thing,” says a veteran House Republican. “I think we’ll get it through, at least that’s my sense of things now. We want to do something that marks our position, so we don’t end up swallowing whatever terrible bait the Senate casts our way. Now, I know, and the majority of us know, that this is futile. But believe me, even getting to 218 on this plan will be an achievement.”

Another small but key early snag: the scope of the so-called Vitter Amendment, which would end federal contributions to the health-care plans of congressional employees. At the conference meeting this morning, the leadership decided to end those contributions only for members of Congress and Cabinet officials, but not for staffers. Conservatives quickly pushed back, and they’re now asking the leadership to expand the language. The leadership is expected to comply as a way of winning support.

On the other fronts, the majority of the Republican conference is mostly united. They’re okay with extending the debt limit and funding the government, and they like the idea of broader budget talks later this year. The’ve also agreed to tinker with Boener’s proposed dates. Instead of opening the government through early 2014, they’ll do it through December 15, and they’ll exend the debt ceiling through February 7. “This is our plan,” explains a House leadership staffer. “It’s imperfect and small and we want much more, but it’s our plan, not the Senate’s. We think it’s got a pretty good shot.” 

Meetings so far at the Capitol have been inconclusive. Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor aren’t panicking, and they’re planning a series of further meetings this afternoon. Aides say they were deliberately vague at conference about the exact contours of the legislation they’re cooking up, in order to give them maneuvering room as they meet with members and amend the bill. Another factor that’s under the radar: knowing the leadership needs them, some members are trying to deal for concessions unrelated to the impasse, looking to trade their support for district-related concerns.

Beyond Boehner’s office, budget chairman Paul Ryan, who has been an instrumental leadership confidant over the past few weeks, is talking with colleagues, trying to get them behind the plan as he looks toward broader budget discussions. But even Ryan is meeting resistance from the bloc of approximately 50 conservatives who are unhappy with the strategy. After fighting to delay and defund Obamacare for months, they’re not ready to back a watered-down plan.

House insiders say Boehner’s fear is that conservative activists and powerful conservative groups start to align against the bill and rattle its fragile coalition. If that happens, and the bill’s support falls apart, a simple, six-week debt-ceiling extension is still in the leadership’s back pocket, but there’s no plan to bring that up anytime soon. More likely, should things fizzle on the whip front, is that another conference meeting is called and the House GOP “gets real,” as one Boehner ally puts it, about “what’s possible within divided government, and whether Republicans are willing to back anything at all.”

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have slowed down their talks with Democrats as they wait to see if Boehner can pass his plan. Privately, they’re worried that if Boehner struggles to find support for his amped-up version of the emerging Senate deal, it’ll give even more leverage to Senate majority leader Harry Reid. “If the House can’t get its act together, we’re going to get nothing, other than preserving sequestration,” says a Senate GOP aide. “They’re playing games, and we’re over here, just trying to survive.”

Robert Costa — Robert Costa is National Review's Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst. He manages NR's Capitol Hill bureau and covers the White House, Congress, and national campaigns. ...

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete. The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More
World

Ilhan Omar’s Big Lie

In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official ... Read More
U.S.

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More
Elections

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More
PC Culture

Merciless Sympathy

Jussie Smollett’s phony hate-crime story could have been taken apart in 24 hours, except for one thing: Nobody wanted to be the first to call bullsh**. Who will bell the cat? Not the police, and I don’t blame them. Smollett is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump who checks two protected-category ... Read More