By all indications, the conservative gambit led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on defunding the Affordable Care Act through the continuing resolution is doomed to fail.
But Cruz’s battle has diverted attention away from another battle that Democrats wanted to fight through the continuing resolution — sequestration. It’s something that House Speaker John Boehner has taken advantage of, masterfully putting Republicans in position to come out of the government-funding fight with a win and with future leverage on the sequester.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill to avert a government shutdown. Boehner gave into demands from the conservative wing of his caucus, and the bill included the stripping of funding for Obamacare.
But the bill also funds the government through Dec. 15 at a spending level of approximately $US986 billion. This locks in another temporary round of spending cuts, as it funds the government at levels under sequestration. According to the liberal Center for American Progress, it keeps 100% of the non-defence sequester cuts and 60% of the cuts to defence.
But sequestration has become such an afterthought that Democrats have barely put up a fight in this round of fiscal talks. The White House has refused to take the step of issuing a veto threat against a bill that includes sequester-level spending. And Senate Democrats also look prepared to cave.
A senior Democratic Senate aide told Business Insider that it’s not likely the Senate will amend the House’s bill to include higher-spending levels. Democratic aides say this is because they are worried about having the votes to push through anything higher than the House level.
And they say that Boehner hasn’t provided them enough time to fight on the sequester. If they do, they fear they’ll be blamed in the event of a shutdown. But the aides stressed that there are still a few days and possibly two Democratic caucus meetings before any strategy is set in stone.
It’s likely, however, that the Senate will send back to Boehner a “clean” continuing resolution without the language to strip funding for Obamacare and that maintains the $US986 billion spending level.
At that point, House Democrats will be pressed to support the Senate-passed bill when it comes back to the House. Even though House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have railed against a $US986 billion-level bill, the Senate will have given them no cover. They would risk being blamed for a government shutdown if they oppose the bill that passed the Senate with substantially Democratic votes.
For Boehner, the real test will come in convincing a majority of his caucus to also support the bill, considering many conservatives will be disappointed that it no longer includes language to defund Obamacare.
This doesn’t mean that Republicans will come out of this fiscal debate unscathed. Polls show that the vast majority of Americans oppose defunding Obamacare, which has been the party’s central strategy in the debate.
But if Boehner can get enough of his caucus on board to avoid breaking the “Hastert Rule” and avoid a shutdown, Republicans will have won another significant battle on spending. That’s plausible, considering that only a minority of 80 Republicans in the House signed a letter urging Boehner to defund Obamacare.
It also means that Republicans will continue to hold important leverage on something Democrats — and President Obama — desperately want to eliminate.
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