House Republicans have only themselves to blame.
Hamstrung by their own political inflexibility and President Obama's decision to bypass them to negotiate with the Senate, the House GOP blew the only leverage they had to force a favorable deal to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. Now, House Republicans' only choice is to eat a bipartisan Senate compromise or risk tanking the world economy by instigating a default on $16.7 trillion in U.S. debt.
In Washington, this is called getting “jammed.”
House Republicans saw it coming -- and they lamented being cornered into a choice between allowing a Senate agreement they didn't like to clear their chamber and the threat of federal default and worldwide economic calamity. YetHouse Republicans still failed to act, with a sizable bloc rejecting Speaker John Boehner's bid for the 217 GOP votes he needed to pass legislation that might have strengthened their position and compelled Senate Democrats and Obama to deal with them.
“The difficulty is, the president won’t negotiate with House Republicans,” Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, told the Washington Examiner a few days ago. “He’s chosen, instead, to try to hook his wing to the Senate and try to jam us.”
For several weeks, House Republicans insisted they would not fund the government and raise the federal borrowing limit unless Obama agreed to negotiate. All House Republicans were asking for, they kept saying, was a “conversation.” Even as the impasse led to a politically unpopular government shutdown, House Republicans maintained their standing in an otherwise politically damaging deadlock by demanding bipartisan negotiations with the White House and the Democratic Senate.
But when Obama reversed course and started talking, he froze out the House GOP in favor of dealing with the Senate's Republican minority. The president's move deprived House Republicans of their most potent political message and simultaneously allowed the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to secure a more favorable deal.
Senate Republicans spent the previous weeks deferring to House Republicans because they hold a majority, theoretically positioning them to exact maximum leverage in negotiations with Obama and Reid.
But with public opinion polls showing the Republican Party’s approval rating tanking, particularly congressional Republicans, the Senate GOP grew impatient and launched negotiations with Reid and the president to end the government shutdown and avert a default of the country’s $16.7 trillion debt. Senate Republicans were miffed at the House Republicans' last offer to Obama, which would have raised the debt ceiling but maintained the highly unpopular government shutdown.
“When the final offer was, let’s do a short-term debt deal and keep the shutdown in place, that just — I think everybody here said, ‘Alright, that’s enough,’ ” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said.
The bipartisan Senate compromise, negotiated by Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would immediately end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. The government would be funded at sequester levels of $986 billion through Jan. 15, while a House-Senate conference committee tries to reach a budget that would keep the government running through 2014. The debt ceiling would be suspended through Feb. 7.
The deal includes one Obamacare fig leaf for the Republicans: The Obama administration will agree to verify that those applying for government insurance subsidies are financially eligible for them.
The bill includes one other small GOP victory: It does not include a provision sought by Democrats that would have allowed union workers to escape a $63 health insurance tax mandated under Obamacare.
The package could have significant Republican support in the Senate and could clear the House as early as Wednesday evening. How many House Republicans vote for the bill is another matter.
Meanwhile, House Republicans appear effectively paralyzed, and it remains unclear if they’re going to learn from this experience and commit to the kind of politically strategic, legislative action that might prevent future jams.
"We’ve been jammed before,” Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said.