Senate Stalls Out as Republicans Wait for Boehner

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 15 2013 3:56 PM

Senate Stalls Out as Republicans Wait for Boehner

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Help us, Obi-John, you're our only hope.

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Sorry, The Markets! Your futile hope that the U.S. Senate was closing in on a bipartisan deal was dashed by the latest House Republican zigzag. After details of the latest Republican bill leaked, Democrats went to the Senate floor—Reid, Schumer, Durbin—and pronounced it DOA. John McCain followed them, chastising the majority for so swiftly ruling out a good-faith bill from the House.

This effectively stalled the bipartisan Senate talks. Why? If the Senate moves first, on a bipartisan bill, it would need to either 1) achieve unanimous consent and head to the House quickly, or 2) overcome the normal debate times (30 hours now, 30 hours when cloture is invoked), making its arrival in the House a close-run thing. At least one Republican (probably Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, potentially Texas Sen. Ted Cruz) was likely to delay the Senate bill if the House came up with something. So, at today's luncheon, Republicans left singing Boehner's praises.

"They're going first, I hope," said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. "If they don't, that will be a big disappointment. That means the Senate will have to go. That means what passes out of the Senate will be less palatable, less good government. And one of the greatest concerns I have is that John Boehner is compromised. I was involved in taking one speaker down. I'd like to be involved in keeping this one. I can't stress enough how important it is for the House to garner 218 votes. One of the casualties of a strategy that was unrealistic, if it turned out John Boehner, it would be bad for the party and bad for the country."

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Democrats were dismayed. "I've been getting emails and texts from friends all over the country, saying, 'boy, this looks great, you have a resolution!' " said Delaware Sen. Chris Coons. "I really thought today that we were coming in to caucus to be told, 'there's a deal.' "

Instead, there's a wait-for-Boehner holdup. Robert Costa, the Ernie Pyle of the shutdown wars, reported all afternoon that Republicans were trimming down the House continuing resolution, leaving as a necessity the ban on employer subsidies for members of Congress and figures in the administration—or maybe expanding it to the "full Vitter," the amendment that would do this to the subsidies of all Hill staffers.

"When you talk about putting us, as members, into the Obamacare system without subsidies, you'd have thought you'd shot somebody's dog," shrugged Lindsey Graham. Republicans see this accidental, trolling-oriented proposal as a political winner. Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton, the House member with the best chance of defeating a Democratic senator next year, is already running ads on it. In it stays.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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