We are getting a flood of incoming calls asking whether House Speaker John Boehner has the necessary 217 minimum number of votes needed to pass the combined Continuing Resolution and an authorization to lift debt ceiling, both of which are still being drafted for a floor vote to be held as early as tonight.
In a word, no, at least not yet.
It is our understanding that the Speaker’s own whip counts put him still a disconcerting twenty or so votes short. That is one reason the legislative language is still being tweaked in the late afternoon to pick up a firm yea vote here and there. The Speaker could also still pull the vote at the last minute and hold it up until as late as Thursday if the votes are clearly still not there. But our sense is that there is a now or never determination driving this to a vote tonight as vowed.
The final version of the combined bills is likely to drop the medical device tax but include hardened language on the Vitter Amendment as well as forbidding Treasury from using extraordinary funding measures. And in another crucial change that seems to be winning over a handful more of the defiant Tea Party dissidents, the CR will now be shortened to mid-December from the January end-date of the Senate version to appease the Tea Party thirst for one last go at the Affordable Care Act before more of it goes into effect on January 1.
The bills are expected to go to the rules Committee by 6.00pm or a little later, depending on how many further tweaks to the final draft are added to secure votes. But the Rules Committee, chaired by Boehner ally Pete Sessions, will vote whatever way the Speaker needs on points of order such as waiving the three day rule or restricting amendments.
Going into a floor vote – if Speaker Boehner does indeed decide to proceed – the calculation is that the Tea Party dissidents will face a moment of truth and either vote for what they can get in this bill or be forced to “eat” what they get in a Senate bill later that would be put to a straight up or down vote in the House.
The Boehner bet, and it is a high stakes one, is that enough of the remaining Tea Party stragglers, especially those whose last name is at the lower end of the alphabet, will be forced off the fence from where they have derailed Boehner and the leadership at nearly every turn up to now. In that sense, this is put up or shut up vote, with the leadership of the unruly House Republican conference at stake as much as a vote to counter the Democratic Senate moves yesterday.
We do think the Speaker will indeed pull in the necessary votes to pass whatever final versions of the CR and debt ceiling are put to the floor. But it is going to be very close.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is still working on the Senate bill, but is holding back until he sees which way the House bill goes. And in a way the pause is tactically meant to pile on the pressure for Boehner. If he does fail to find the votes, all the remaining momentum to end the crisis on politically advantageous terms swings back to the Senate and to the Democrats.