If you want to understand why Speaker John Boenher, R-Ohio, hasn't brought a clean continuing resolution to the House floor, thus allowing a majority of Republicans and Democrats to end the government shutdown, you must travel back to this January when Boehner was still reeling from the failure of his 'Plan B' to solve the fiscal cliff crisis.
At the time, House Leadership was juggling three deadlines: a mid-February debt limit deadline, a March 1st sequester deadline, and a March 27th continuing resolution deadline.
With President Obama's reelection still fresh on everyone's mind, and his approval ratings still above 50 percent, Boehner did not want to force a debt limit negotiation with Obama at the peak of his second term power. So the House voted in late January to punt the debt limit to mid-May. That's one deadline delayed.
Republicans then let the sequestration deadline come and go, wisely allowing Obama and the Democrats to overplay their hands with hysterical predictions of doom. Before the deadline, Republicans had little to no leverage on ending the sequester cuts. Democrats thought the defense cuts would force national security Republicans to support tax hikes and they hoped the cuts to domestic programs would spark widespread public outcry. When neither happened, Republicans suddenly found they had a huge new bargaining chip in the fiscal debates.
The House and Senate were then able to come together on a CR before the March 27th deadline, that kept the government open through September 30th. That bill gave additional flexibility to the Defense Department to blunt the worst aspects of the sequester cuts.
House Leadership then wanted to fight on the debt limit sometime this summer. But the Treasury Department kept pushing back the drop-dead date for the debt limit, which at some point was set for mid-December. The sequencing had now been flipped. Coming into the fall, Congress was set to pass a CR first in September, before the debt limit later sometime in the winter.
But over the summer, conservatives grew restless over the lack of a clear plan, and the #DefundObamacare movement was born. Now House Leadership was being forced to fight on the CR, a fight they never wanted.
Ideally, Boehner wanted to offer Obama a debt limit hike and an end to the sequester in exchange for ... nobody really knows. And that is part of the problem. The conservative movement wants concessions on Obamacare as part of any debt-limit/CR package. But leadership simply isn't trusted to have the same priority. Conservatives still fear Boehner may come back with some Grand Bargain tax hike like Chained CPI, and some Keystone Pipeline concession that nobody believes Obama would ever follow through with anyway.
If Boehner caves on the CR now, then conservatives are a lot less likely to go for whatever debt limit deal he gets from Obama later.
But, if Boehner stays firm on Obamacare and the CR now, and then combines that fight with the debt limit, Boehner now has the two big pieces of leverage he wanted to use to begin with (the debt limit and the sequester) and conservatives are more likely to give him the benefit of the doubt on whatever deal he reaches since Boehner stood by them throughout the CR/defund fight.
In other words, Boehner knows that the debt limit-sequester fight was always the best opportunity to win concessions from the White House, and that Republican unity is also a must for extracting as much as possible.
Beginning the debt limit negotiations with a two-week government shutdown is not how Boehner wanted to play it, but if it keeps his party unified later, the benefits of standing firm now outweigh the costs of caving.
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