There were no tears, just cheers, when Speaker John Boehner announced his latest fiscal strategy on Saturday at a closed-door conference meeting. Even Boehner’s longtime critics praised him for pushing a government-spending bill that also delayed Obamacare for one year and repealed the medical-device tax.
Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, an outspoken sophomore and a participant in January’s failed coup attempt against Boehner, strolled to the microphone, glanced at Boehner, and said, “Thank you.” The speaker turned to his members — if Amash was all in, he chuckled, he was probably making a mistake.
House Republicans, though, reassured Boehner — especially the conservatives. Chants of “Vote! Vote! Vote!” echoed through the room. Standing in the back, Boehner’s deputies watched the scene and smiled. “People went bonkers,” says Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona. Representative John Culberson of Texas was so enthused that he yelled, “Let’s roll!” after hearing Boehner’s remarks. Culberson later told reporters he was alluding to the cry of United 93 passenger Todd Beamer.
But near the end of the meeting, as a shutdown loomed, the gathering began to take on a surreal air. And by Sunday night, pangs of fear were replacing those good spirits for many in the GOP. With a shutdown imminent, Boehner and his allies were scrambling to craft another eleventh-hour plan, following the House’s Saturday passage of Boehner’s legislation and the Senate’s quick rejection. Publicly, the House GOP is united behind a blame-the-Senate defense; privately, many Republicans are nervous.
Unless Boehner finds a way out, the first federal government shutdown since 1996 is scheduled to occur at midnight on Monday — an outcome that, if mishandled, could put the House GOP’s 17-seat majority into play. Boehner’s grip over his conference is being tested, as is his ability to navigate a deeply divided government.
One rising option being bandied about in the GOP cloakroom: a continuing resolution that includes the Vitter Amendment, which would eliminate Obamacare subsidies for congressional employees. Another option is a short-term CR that simply extends the debate. “There are a lot of items on the table,” said Republican whip Kevin McCarthy of California on Fox News Sunday. “We are not shutting the government down.”
But that plan, a short-term CR with the Vitter Amendment, isn’t gaining much traction, since most of the House’s right flank is unwilling to sign off on any compromise that doesn’t delay Obamacare. “Hope he doesn’t do that,” warns Louie Gohmert of Texas, a Boehner opponent, when we mention a short-term CR. “That’d be a problem.”