WASHINGTON – House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has a long and difficult weekend ahead.
With only three days in which to avert a partial shutdown of the federal government, the Republican leaders new task is as familiar as it is excruciating: uniting an unruly GOP conference behind a plan to keep the government running.
Its the same predicament Boehner was in a week and a half ago, before conservative members practically forced him to hold a vote on a stopgap spending measure that would defund President Barack Obamas signature health care law.
Predictably, the Democratic-controlled Senate stripped out the health care provision Friday, returning to the House a bill that Boehner says he will not accept.
What he will agree to, and what he can convince his colleagues to support, is the big question. House GOP leaders have not signaled what changes they intend to make to the bill, known as a continuing resolution.
Already, conservatives have scuttled plans by leadership to move the fight over the health care law they call Obamacare to next months battle over the White Houses request to raise the nations borrowing limit. Theyve also thwarted efforts to hold a vote on the debt ceiling before the stopgap spending showdown is settled.
Boehner will huddle with his conference at noon today in the basement of the Capitol. What happens next will depend on what he hears.
But heres how bleak things look for the speaker: Even if he cajoles his conference to agree on a new spending bill in time to avert a shutdown, Senate Democrats will kill anything that threatens the Affordable Care Act and reject anything resembling conservative demands.
Were not going to be extorted, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Friday. The countrys not going to be extorted. Were not going to negotiate with a gun to our heads.
Its hard enough for Boehner and his deputies to round up votes under normal circumstances. Now, hes competing for attention with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a fiery conservative freshman who delivered a 21-hour address in opposition to the health care law this week.
National Review reported Friday that Cruz had urged a group of House conservatives to defy Boehner by opposing a proposal by GOP leaders to use the debt ceiling talks as the main vehicle for pushing their demands. Democrats, meanwhile, are urging Boehner to accept the Senate-passed bill and move on.
Over the next three days, House Republicans will have to decide whether to join the Senate and keep the government open or shut it down because they cant get their way on an issue that has nothing to do with the deficit, Obama said Friday at the White House.
If Boehner were to try to pass the Senate bill with the support of moderate Republicans and Democrats, hed face a level of fury from many House Republicans that would make their current stubbornness appear mild.
Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in an email: The House will take action that reflects the fundamental fact that Americans dont want a government shutdown and they dont want the train wreck that is Obamacare. Grandstanding from the president, who refuses to even be a part of the process, wont bring Congress any closer to a resolution.
There are a lot of difficult questions for Boehner, and no easy answers. No matter what path he chooses, he will make somebody very unhappy.
If hes able to navigate his way out of a government shutdown, Boehner will barely have time to catch his breath before he will be in another standoff, over the nations borrowing authority. The nation will reach its borrowing capacity on Oct. 17, according the Treasury.