Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Senate voted this afternoon to strip the House GOP-authored provisions in the continuing resolution currently stalled on Capitol Hill and to send a clean bill back to the lower chamber, which yet again finds itself holding the political hot potato as Washington inches closer still to its first shutdown in more than 17 years.
The two chambers have already done a version of this dance once before. Last week, the House sent a government-funding CR that would have defunded Obamacare to the Senate, only for Democrats there to follow through on their promise to pick the bill clean and return it to the House. This time, the lower chamber's bill would have delayed Obamacare by one year and repealed a tax on medical devices—both of which were nonstarters for Senate Democrats who maintain it's a clean-bill-or-bust situation when it comes to keeping the government running.
The spotlight now turns back to the House, where Speaker John Boehner remains caught between moderates in his party and those farther out to the right. Exactly what the Ohio Republican will do next is anyone's guess—although it appears increasingly certain that we're heading for our first shutdown since 1995-96 when a Newt Gingrich-led House tangled with Bill Clinton. Even if Boehner were to set aside the so-called Hastert Rule and pass a clean CR with the help of House Democrats, it's unclear if such a move would beat a midnight deadline given the speed at which the Senate works. Among the not-particularly-appealing options currently on the table for Boehner are to:
- Do nothing and let the government shutdown at midnight, and watch the American public largely blame his caucus for it;
- Pass another Obamacare-targeting CR and see it either rejected or ignored by the Senate, meaning the government would shutdown at midnight;
- Pass a clean, short-term CR with the help of Democrats and face swift backlash from the most conservative members of his caucus. Such a move would avert or—depending on timing—end a shutdown, but it would set up an even higher-stakes game of chicken over the debt ceiling fight that comes next.