The negotiation dance continues in Washington, as House conservatives try and squeeze the best deal they can from House leadership and vice versa while the Senate awaits their counterpart's latest proposal. House leadership floated a proposal initially expected to face a vote Tuesday night, but the plan was scuttled thanks to a lack of support from conservatives.
Senators struck a bipartisan deal Monday night that would reopen the federal government until Jan. 15 and lift the debt limit until Feb. 7, with the hope that budget negotiators can hammer out a longer-term spending package by the end of the year. But they held off on a vote, giving House Republicans a chance to digest the proposal that would also delay the medical device tax aimed at helping fund President Barack Obama's health care law.
House Speaker John Boehner, whose leadership abilities have been questioned from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, whipped his caucus to back a similar proposal with tweaks included to gin up the 217 votes needed to pass. The House version would have likely included funding the government and increasing the debt ceiling but on a shorter timetable than the Senate proposal, and it would have left the medical device tax as is but stripped health insurance subsidies from White House officials, lawmakers and their staff, sources told U.S. News & World Report Tuesday afternoon.
But Boehner and his team scrapped a vote because they couldn't find the support needed among conservatives and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the proposal would have to pass without Democratic votes.
Ford O'Connell, a Republican political consultant, says Boehner's working to convince his caucus that they need to strike a deal now in order to make further spending cut gains in the next round of negotiations.
"It's important to recognize that John Boehner is between a rock and a hard place, and he's playing the long game and some people are playing the short game," O'Connell says. "He realizes he's in much better shape in the next round of talks because the one thing that they have on the bargaining table [is] sequestration. Now the question for Republicans is what strategy are they going to go with?"
Boehner has repeatedly said he is opposed to letting the government default, as predicted by White House officials on Oct. 17 if the debt ceiling isn't lifted. While many House conservatives are questioning whether or not that will technically occur that day, many economists predict the financial markets will react negatively regardless. Fitch Ratings, a global rating group, placed the United States' AAA financial rating under review for a downgrade Tuesday afternoon.
"The U.S. authorities have not raised the federal debt ceiling in a timely manner before the treasury exhausts extraordinary measures," a Fitch press release said. "The U.S. treasury secretary has said that extraordinary measures will be exhausted by Oct. 17, leaving cash reserves of just $30 billion. Although Fitch continues to believe that the debt ceiling will be raised soon, the political brinkmanship and reduced financing flexibility could increase the risk of a U.S. default."
O'Connell says Boehner's job right now is to make it clear to the most conservative members that he's done his best to strike the best deal possible, and that defunding the Affordable Care Act is an unachievable goal at this stage. Outside conservative groups, like Heritage Action, are rallying members of Congress to oppose the floated House proposal because it fails to do anything on that front.
"They have to convince enough members of the caucus that...as long as President Obama's president he's not going to sign anything that's going to gut Obamacare," O'Connell says. "And that's really what they are trying to explain to them and say, 'hey, we can make some meaningful gains here through compromise but we have to be united and on the same page.'"
Polling shows American's blame Republicans more than Democrats for the shutdown woes, but neither side is well-liked. O'Connell says members are aware of the numbers and, "They're not real excited about them."
Even after the House passes a proposal - if they can - it's unlikely to be taken at face value by the Democratically-controlled Senate, which means the clock has nearly run out for a deal to be struck before the projected deadline.
Boehner, meanwhile, is at one of the most critical points of his speakership, testing the limits of how far he can push his caucus to follow him after appearing to be bullied by them at every dramatic turn of the current Congress.