For all the talk about the Senate reaching a solution to the twin spending and debt crises on Capitol Hill, the fact is, Senate Republicans, working from the weak position of the minority, needed the strength of House Republicans, with majority control, to pass the most conservative bill possible that could also make it through the Senate. But the House GOP, divided among itself, failed to do anything on Tuesday. For Republicans, that will mean an even weaker resolution to the crisis than might otherwise have happened.
Senate Republicans weren't happy with a proposed deal that extended government spending and raised the debt limit, accompanied by a weak Obamacare subsidy verification provision and a tax break that mostly benefited Democratic-leaning unions. How could the GOP be satisfied with that? For Republicans, it was a really bad way to end the fight. "Because it was so weak, we never accepted it," said a Senate Republican aide in a conversation Tuesday night. "The reason it went to the House was that Senate Republicans were not satisfied with the deal that Reid was presenting. The House had the opportunity to pass something more rigorous."
The Senate's Republican leadership had spoken with a lot of moderate Senate Democrats in recent days in an effort to find out what measures they might accept, especially those involving Obamacare. Senate Republicans shared the results of those talks with House Speaker John Boehner. With that knowledge, what Boehner proposed to put into the final House plan was a set of measures he had reason to believe moderate Senate Democrats might accept. "What Boehner put into the bill was stuff that [Senate Republicans] thought moderate Democrats would go for, which was the Vitter Amendment, the medical device tax, plus continuing resolution and debt limit, and the extraordinary measures provision," said the Senate GOP aide.
Of course, Senate Democrats might ultimately have rejected some of those. But the idea was not that Harry Reid and his Democratic allies would accept every single provision but that the final bill coming out of the process would be stronger than the original proposed deal in the Senate. And that depended on the strength of the House Republicans, who could actually pass a bill with those measures and send it to the Senate.
But the House Republicans failed, and seemed to fall apart in the process. Senate Republicans knew the House GOP conference was divided, and they knew Boehner's hold on his conference was shaky, but they were still stunned by the GOP's utter failure to accomplish anything.
"They are a majority party that wants to be a minority party," the Senate Republican aide said of the House GOP. "This is not how a majority party acts. The majority party takes the power that it has and puts it to use. And in this case, they refused to use the power they had because they would rather rail against the majority that they should be trying to deal with."
"They showed they would rather be in the minority than have to deal with a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Democratic president."
Now, it's up to Senate Republicans, with no majority, to find a way out. "We're not going to go into default," the aide said. "I suspect something is going to pass the House and something is going to pass the Senate to fund the government and enable us to avoid default." But it won't be on anything like Republican terms. And the House failure will even make it more difficult for Senate Republicans to come to a deal that extends sequestration spending levels for as long as possible.
"We wanted to have a long continuing resolution," the aide said. "Democrats wanted to have a short continuing resolution. With the House failing to pass its bill, whatever leverage we had in the Senate just vanished. As soon as the House bill failed, we kind of lost all leverage."
And that is where things stand. Obviously, the House will have to be involved in the final resolution, but its role will likely be diminished. Tuesday was the House GOP's moment to salvage as much as possible from its failed effort to undo or limit Obamacare, and it failed in that, too.