By Josh Barro
Our government is a disaster because of a small group of Republicans in the House of Representatives. I'm not talking about the group of Republicans you might think. Yes, there are 30 to 50 archconservatives in the House who have been insistent they won't reopen the government without putting a major dent in Obamacare. These people are not the key problem. They are only relevant because so called "reasonable" or "realistic" Republicans allow them to be. The most dangerous group in Congress is moderate Republicans, many from the northeast, who could reopen the government and break extremists' grip on their caucus' agenda, but choose not to.
According to the Washinton Post, 21 House Republicans say they are prepared to vote for a "clean" continuing resolution to reopen the government. Together with Democrats, this is enough votes to pass the bill that has already passed the Senate, reopen the government, and stop the madness. Yet these Republicans who publicly say they favor a clean CR have repeatedly voted with their extremist colleagues to prevent it from coming to a vote. If moderate House Republicans don't want a government shutdown and favor a clean CR, why have they passed up on ways to end the shutdown?
Here are the three things they could do if they wanted to:
1. Defeating the rule. On Sept. 30, Republicans voted on two plans that would only keep the government open with major changes to Obamacare. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) opposed this approach, saying the House should instead vote on a clean continuing resolution like the Senate's.
King declared his intention to vote against a rule bringing the last Republican plan to the floor; a defeat would have left Republicans with no bill to reopen the government and likely led to a vote on a clean CR. And King claimed that 20 to 25 moderate Republicans were prepared to vote with him. But when the rule came up for a vote, only one other moderate joined King in voting no: Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.). All the other "moderates" lined up the likes of Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), and the government shut down.
2. Recommitting with instructions. Since the government shut down, House Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly brought up bills to reopen only parts of the government. And five times, Democrats have made motions to recommit these bills with instructions. What those motions would do is amend the bills to be identical to the "clean" continuing resolution that already passed the Senate.
Each time, the Republican presiding officer has ruled the motions out of order, and Democrats have appealed the ruling. If you favor a clean CR and want one brought to the floor, you should vote in favor of the appeal. But each time Democrats have made this move, not a single Republican has voted with them—not even Peter King.
3. Discharging the bill. Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) filed a bill earlier this year that would cause the government to stay open at current funding levels even if Congress fails to pass a continuing resolution. Democrats have proposed a discharge petition for this bill. If 218 members signed that petition, the bill would come to the floor, and if it passed the House and Senate, the government would reopen. But no Republican has backed this approach, either. King told the National Review he wouldn't sign the petition because Democrats "are not bargaining in good faith."
If you look at members' actions and votes instead of their statements, the number of Republicans in the House who favor a clean CR and oppose the Cruz-driven strategy of shutdown and hostage taking is not 21. It's 0. The entire House Republican caucus is responsible for its shutdown-based legislative strategy. The only difference among the members is that Tea Party conservatives have the decency to admit what they're up to.
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