Feature

John Boehner vs. the Tea Party: The impending showdown

Avoiding a government shutdown won't be easy

Even as Congress remains embroiled in the situation in Syria, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is barreling toward a showdown with the Tea Party over preventing a government shutdown.

The continuing resolution funding the government runs out at the end of September, and Tea Party Republicans are vowing to use the negotiations as leverage to defund ObamaCare, even if that leads to an impasse that shuts down the federal government.

Boehner and other House GOP leaders are trying to avert such a calamity with a compromise that they pitched this week, which would entail a vote on a stopgap spending measure that would keep government agencies open from October 1 to December 15, at a level that preserves the sequester budget cuts. A separate measure would propose defunding ObamaCare.

Boehner had to postpone a vote on the plan Wednesday, though, due to a revolt by several dozen Tea Party conservatives. They argue that Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) are squandering the leverage provided by the Sept. 30 deadline, in exchange for a symbolic vote against ObamaCare that will never pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. GOP leaders are trying to soothe their troops by saying they will insist on a one-year delay of ObamaCare in any deal to raise the debt limit, an even bigger budgetary matter looming in October.

"But here's the rub," says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. "At some point, something will have to pass with a lot of Dems." And President Obama and his fellow Democrats have vowed not to horse-trade over raising the debt ceiling. Here's more from Sargent:

That will leave only two choices: Pass a debt limit hike with mostly Democrats, stiff-arming the Tea Party, or allow economic havoc to break out. Boehner isn't going to do the latter. So his only choice will be the former...

Which means that at some point this fall, Boehner will have to cut the Tea Party loose, and suffer the consequences. [Washington Post]

Not all conservatives think it will — or should — get to that point. W. James Antle III at The American Conservative, who supports repealing ObamaCare, says Tea Party Republicans are pursuing the wrong strategy, since ObamaCare is likely to "collapse under its own weight" once it's implemented:

A failed attempt to defund ObamaCare would be just as pointlessly symbolic as the various House repeal and delay votes. But instead of winning Democratic votes and underscoring the enduring unpopularity of ObamaCare, it might unify the Democrats and deepen the GOP's unpopularity. [The American Conservative]

Still, that isn't likely to appease a furious conservative base that views ObamaCare as a socialist takeover of the health care system. And the Tea Party has shown time and again that it, not Boehner, wields the real power in the Republican caucus. Carrie Wofford at U.S. News & World Report says, "Boehner may indeed try to defund America. After all, his speakership rests in part on his ability to keep the extremists in his caucus supporting him — not always easy with Eric Cantor breathing down his neck."

Indeed, the question for Boehner increasingly boils down to this: Is he willing to put his speakership on the line to avoid an economic catastrophe?

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