The House on Tuesday approved a stopgap bill that would avert a federal shutdown for another three weeks. Yet it was Democrats who rescued Speaker John Boehner’s measure after more than 50 of his own Republicans abandoned him.
That so many conservative lawmakers felt free to abandon the speaker demonstrates the precarious position Boehner finds himself in, where Democrats may well have an upper hand.
This could well include Senate Democrats, who have stood in the way of H.R. 1 becoming law. H.R. 1 is the long-term spending bill approved last month by the House. That legislation would trim tens of billions more from a variety of federal programs than Democrats have been willing to accept.
Lawmakers on Tuesday approved the three-week spending bill on a vote of 271-158. Some 54 Republicans voted it down. It was saved only by the support of 85 Democrats. If that stopgap bill had gone down to defeat, the federal government would have been forced to shut down after Friday.
“Tuesday’s breakdown in Republican discipline weakens Speaker John Boehner’s hand in White House budget talks and raises the chances of a government shutdown next month unless he and President Barack Obama greatly step up their game…” the website Politico reported after the vote. “‘I think we have to have a fight. I think this is the moment,’ Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) told POLITICO prior to the vote. ‘Things don’t change around here until they have to, and Republicans ought to draw a line in the sand.’ Leadership aides would argue later that Republican losses piled up more at the end once passage was assured. But the bottom line is the 85 Democratic ‘yea’ votes saved the speaker’s bill.”
As much of the rest of the media coverage of the House vote made clear, Boehner either will have to side with the tea-party-backed right of his caucus, or find some way to make common cause with Democrats.
“Speaker Boehner wouldn’t have been able to pass this short-term measure without Democratic votes, and he won’t be able to pass a long-term one without Democratic votes either. It’s time for him to abandon the Tea Party, and forge a bipartisan compromise,” says Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a senior member of the Senate Democrat’s leadership.
Politico also notes that some in the GOP already have grown tired of those on their right wing. “Some veteran Republican House members are pushing back against conservative deficit hawks who are pushing for endlessly deep spending cuts, saying the right wing of the party is creating unnecessary divisions for the GOP majority,” the site reports. “While the 54 Republicans who voted against the most recent stopgap spending bill didn’t derail the legislation, some GOP lawmakers are becoming increasingly wary of a faction that rejects substantial spending cuts because they want deeper ones or the inclusion of divisive social policy riders. Many of the critics are close to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who struggles more each day to keep his majority unified as a three-month spending showdown threatens to spill into April.”
In any case, it certainly is to the advantage of Democrats in the White House, and on both sides of the Capitol.
That is particularly true for Senate Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has held firm. While he says he wants genuine negotiation, he has not accepted wholesale the high House level of cuts. That would appear to add salience to the 2012 campaign strategy emerging from Senate Democrats, which says that their four-seat majority represents a “firewall” against extreme Republican policies.
Scott Nance is the publisher of the news site The Washington Current, formerly known as On The Hill. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.