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Congress races to head off US default, will it beat the clock? (+video)

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(Read caption) Phil Mattingly reports on the impact to the republicans of the US government shutdown.
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Senate leaders on Wednesday were racing to paste together a bipartisan deal to avoid a possible government default and reopen the government after weeks of a draining national fiscal crisis.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell expected to wrap up their negotiations in time to hold votes on the package later in the day. Staff worked all night drawing up legislative language to ensure the bill could be finished Wednesday morning.

“The clock is ticking,” Sen. John Thune (R) of South Dakota, the Senate’s third-ranking Republican, told The Washington Post. “Given the consequence of what we’re talking about here ... I would hope that we would have genuine interest among all parties in terms of trying to get this done as quickly as possible.”

The deal was expected to mirror one that Senate leaders discussed over the weekend. It would fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceiling enough to provide federal cash through Feb. 7 – thus setting up another possible confrontation in early 2014.

It would also establish a bipartisan commission to hammer out a longer-term budget and tax package, with a deadline of mid-December to finish. In addition, the bill was likely to include tougher language requiring the administration to verify the income of people qualifying for government subsidies under Obamacare.

Senate dealmaking was delayed for a day on Tuesday as House Republicans struggled to unify themselves behind some sort of proposal that they could pass before the Senate acts, perhaps pushing the final legislation to the right. But House Speaker John Boehner was unable to unify his conference behind a bill that would have been only somewhat more conservative than the Senate version. The result was an extraordinary public humiliation for a speaker who has had difficulty controlling the various factions of his caucus.

How complete is Speaker Boehner’s defeat? It’s possible now that he may adopt a legislative switch and pass the Senate’s deal before the Senate itself does so. This maneuver would speed the process of the bill at a time when hours now count.

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Whatever he does, Boehner now probably faces a choice: government default or passage of a bill that the other chamber drew up without his involvement. It’s possible he would try a third option: passage of a clean debt ceiling increase, leaving the government shuttered. But given the lateness of the hour, such a move would be the equivalent of a quarterback heaving a pass from deep in his end zone as the last second ticked off the game clock.

“I believe it would be much quicker if the House were to take the existing vehicle, that’s the continuing resolution bill, load it up with the [Senate] agreement just described, and then send it back to the Senate,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R) of Pennsylvania told CNN.

One remaining question was whether Sens. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas and Mike Lee (R) of Utah or one of their allies would try to delay the legislation on the Senate floor with a filibuster of sorts. That would be theoretically possible, but given the lateness of the hour and the complete collapse of Republican unity, even some conservative pundits urged against it.

“Would Lee or Cruz bother? The collapse of the House GOP effort last night means that there won’t be an alternative to the Senate bill at all, and certainly not one in time to head off a big public-relations nightmare for the caucus rebels,” writes right-leaning talk host Ed Morrissey Wednesday on Hot Air.

Mr. Morrissey opined that it’s time for Republicans to get out of the way and allow Obamacare’s implementation problems to take center stage.

Conservatives who backed Senator Cruz in his effort to strip funding from Obamacare sounded resigned to their defeat and indicated that they would continue their fight by other means – attempting to unseat the Republicans who they saw as betraying their effort.

“You will see no defunding of Obamacare because Republicans are giving up,” writes the influential Erick Erickson of right-leaning RedState.

Mr. Erickson said he’ll now be putting his money into Heritage Action and other political groups that pushed the defunding strategy.

“So what good is the GOP? It’s time to fight this out in primaries in 2014,” he writes.

Meanwhile, Boehner’s future now seems cloudy. He may have won some credibility with conservatives by pushing the shutdown as far as he has. But his inability to unite his caucus behind him for last-ditch efforts speaks to his larger leadership problems.

“In short: Boehner has the shell of a Speakership right now. With all that came before this latest rebuke from within his own conference, it’s hard to see how he picks up the pieces and moves forward with any sort of momentum or force behind him,” write Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan on The Washington Post political blog "The Fix."

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