House Speaker John Boehner finds himself Wednesday afternoon in a difficult spot — with few options.
The Senate, after leaders announced a bipartisan budget deal hours earlier, is planning to charge ahead on a vote sometime before sundown. Boehner is planning to meet with rank-and-file Republicans at 3 p.m. ET to chart their next move.
But the speaker faces diminishing options for holding his party together in the final stretch.
The night before, Boehner had been forced to shelve his chamber’s alternative bill amid resistance from conservatives, and just about every Democrat. Conservatives complained it didn’t go far enough in eroding ObamaCare. Already Wednesday, those same lawmakers were being pressured by conservative groups to vote “no” on the emerging deal.
Boehner, then, is left with a choice: He can try again to put forward a new proposal, or accept some version of what the Senate produces — and likely pass the measure with some Republicans and a lot of Democrats. Despite pressure to oppose the bill from groups like the Club for Growth, moderate Republicans disenchanted with the Tea Party’s confrontational approach could peel off.
House Democrats were already planning for that possibility. Senior House Democratic sources told Fox News that the party is confident they can deliver most of their caucus on the vote.
The current House breakdown is 232 Republicans and 200 Democrats. That means Republicans need help from Democrats if they lose just 16 members.
House Democrats were planning to hold a formal meeting Wednesday afternoon, as Senate leaders charged ahead with votes expected later in the day. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, helped clear the way for that vote when he announced he would not filibuster, though he opposes the deal itself.
The Senate proposal would end the partial government shutdown by funding the government through Jan. 15, and raise the debt ceiling through Feb. 7.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, indicating President Obama would support the plan, said the president believes it “achieves what’s necessary.”
Asked what the House might do, he added: “We’re not putting odds on anything.”
The model for a bill being passed largely by Democrats is the vote in January on aid for Hurricane Sandy victims. The House approved it 241-180 — but with only 49 Republican yeas and a robust 192 Democratic yeas.
The move would undoubtedly be risky for Boehner, and could potentially trigger another effort down the road, from the right, to challenge his speakership. Letting a bill pass on the backs of votes from the minority party would violate what is loosely known as the “Hastert Rule” — named after former Speaker Dennis Hastert, and referring to the principle that the party in control of the House should make sure that party is mostly on board with any bill coming to the floor.
A Boehner spokesman said Wednesday no decision has been made on how to proceed. “No decision has been made about how or when a potential Senate agreement could be voted on in the House,” spokesman Michael Steel said.
But would Boehner really be in trouble if he relied on Democrats?
One senior House Republican said it’s “highly unlikely” that a new leader would emerge “that can raise money, message” and corral the warring factions of the party.
“Boehner takes the high road,” the aide predicted. “He tried to do the right thing. It’s not like he hasn’t been warning us.”
Democrats gladly gloated about the possibility that Boehner might be forced to eat whatever the Senate sends over.
“You have two options. You can get bowled over by the Senate or you can get bowled over by the Senate,” one senior House Democratic aide said. “You can only pass something that’s partisan for so long before you have to go bipartisan.”
Since initially demanding that ObamaCare be defunded as part of any budget deal, Republican leaders have scaled back those demands considerably. The boldest provision in the most recent House bill would have forced top government officials and lawmakers onto ObamaCare, without subsidies.
But the latest version was still too heavy-handed for Democrats, and too weak for conservatives.
FreedomWorks, among the many conservative groups leaning on lawmakers throughout this process, said the bill would do “nothing to shield the rest of America from a law that is being unfairly implemented and is rapidly proving unworkable.”