At his weekly Capitol briefing, House Speaker John Boehner outlined a way around the current impasse in Congress that will result in a government shutdown if it’s not resolved by Friday night. And it could alleviate Dem fears that Republicans are trying to jam them with partisan legislation that would renew the payroll tax cut and extend unemployment benefits, but with a significant number of poison pills thrown in.
“There’s an easy way to untangle all of this,” Boehner said in introductory remarks. “First I think Democrats should join Republicans and sign the conference report [on appropriations legislation] to fund our government. House and Senate appropriators have done their jobs. There’s an agreement on a bill that would keep the government open. They’ve worked out all the details and shook hands, and the bill’s done. It’s bipartisan, it’s bicameral, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate are both ready to vote on this.”
Here’s part two:
“Similarly I think there’s an easy way to resolve our issues on the payroll tax cut bill. The Senate should proceed with an open process — allow amendments and work its will on the House-passed bill. If Senators have their voices heard in an open way, I think it would help us get to a resolution much more quickly.”
Here’s why this hasn’t happened already. For one thing, Democratic leaders and the White House have some outstanding reservations with the appropriations legislation. But more importantly, many Democrats are convinced that if Congress clears it plate of funding the government, House Republicans will skip town and leave Senate Dems a choice between passing their bill or allowing the payroll cut, and extended unemployment benefits to expire.
I asked Boehner about this explicitly, and he publicly committed to reconvening the House once the Senate passes these extensions on a bipartisan basis.
“Let me make this perfectly clear — I thought it was clear all week,” Boehner said. “Once the House passes an appropriation bill to keep our government funded, there’s no reason for House members to sit around here. If the Senate acts, I’m committed to bringing the House back to deal with whatever the Senate does. And there is absolutely no interest on our part in trying to be strident about this. We believe that it’s important to keep the government open, and we believe it’s important to finish the work on the payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance, and the doc fix.”
Taking Boehner at his word, that would leave Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell and the White House in town to forge a compromise that can overcome a filibuster and that President Obama will sign. Dems may be concerned that Republicans will have no incentive to deal in good faith without the threat of a government shutdown looming. But the threat of an increase in a payroll tax cut, and Obama’s veto power, preserves a good deal of the Dems’ leverage.
I have inquiries out on this, and I’ll provide an update as soon as I have one.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.