In meetings Wednesday and Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner reached out to key Democrat leaders, hoping to restart negotiations to avoid a government shutdown and reach a deal on lifting the nation’s debt ceiling. In a meeting with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Boehner sought help from the Obama Administration to resolve the short-term budget issues and overcome a block of conservative lawmakers demanding a delay or defunding of ObamaCare.
“It’s time for the president’s party to show the courage to work with us to solve this problem,” Mr. Boehner said.
Congress is facing a perfect-storm of budget deadlines. On September 30, the current authorization for government spending expires. Unless there is an agreement to extend funding, the government would shut down on October 1. On that day, as well, the ObamaCare health insurance exchanges are set to open, allowing consumers to purchase the health insurance they will be required to have in January.
A couple weeks after this, the government’s borrow authority will reach the statutory debt limit. If this limit isn’t raised, the government won’t be able to issue new debt. It will either have to prioritize payments to meet its monthly revenue, or default on interest payments for past debt.
These three events, and the short time-frame to resolve them, are becoming a headache for Boehner and House GOP Leadership. Conservatives, led by Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, want to use the resolution to continue government funding to defund the ObamaCare law. They see this window as the only chance to keep the law from becoming permanent. Such a provision, however, is unlikely to pass the Senate or be agreed to by President Obama.
A new effort by conservatives is focused on delaying the implementation of ObamaCare for one year. A few months ago, the Obama Administration delayed for a year the employer mandate provisions of the bill, which required employers to offer health insurance or pay a fine. Conservatives are arguing now that the requirement that individual Americans have health insurance should also be delayed. They want this delay attached to either the spending bill or an increase in the debt ceiling.
If they remain united, conservatives have the strength to block any House action. This has apparently forced Boehner to seek some agreement from Democrats. They could, presumably, provide enough votes to overcome the conservatives in the House.
Republicans in the House have long observed the “Hastert Rule,” i.e. only measures supported by a majority of the GOP caucus can proceed. Boehner’s efforts to entice Democrats to the negotiating table may signal the end of this policy. It is a miscalculation, however, to think that Democrats are interested in negotiating at all.
Democrats have stated loudly and publicly that they won’t negotiate on the spending resolution nor the debt ceiling. They are confident that, no matter what happens, the media will spin the consequences in their favor. Boehner must come to understand that before he reaches out again to Democrats.