Today's truly bizarre political controversy is that Speaker John Boehner says there aren't enough votes in the House for a "clean" Continuing Resolution that would reopen the government at the spending level Republicans favor, but without repealing Obamacare or any additional concessions. Various media whip counts disagree with Boehner, and suggest that at least twenty House Republicans have said they would vote for such a bill.
A lot of political controversies are difficult to unambiguously resolve. But this one seems pretty easy. The way to figure out how many House members would vote "yes" on this piece of legislation is to hold a vote. Then the clerk will count up who voted which way and we'll know.
So why doesn't Boehner just hold the vote? One view is that he won't hold the vote because he knows his math is wrong. If the vote is held, the bill will pass and Boehner will lose face in the eyes of the more conservative members of his caucus. Another view is that Boehner's math is actually correct. Some of the 20-24 Republicans who've hinted they would support a clean CR might not, in fact, support such a bill if it were brought to the floor. Some of these folks would like to position themselves as moderate and distance themselves from Ted Cruz, but when the chips are down they don't actually want to break with the caucus. If that's right, declining to hold a vote is less a sop to conservatives than it is to moderates. It lets them get away with cheap talk.
The truth is probably a little from Column A and a little from Column B. If Boehner's math is right, then refusing to hold a vote protects moderates. If Boehner's math is wrong, then refusing to hold a vote appeases conservatives. And since nobody is really sure if Boehner's math is right or not, neither the 20-30 most conservative nor the 20-30 most vulnerable House Republicans really want to see a vote held. So by refusing to let the House vote, Boehner serves everyone's interests. With the important exception, that is, of the interests of the country at large which would be greatly advanced by a precise count.
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