US Fiscal: Whip It

Published on December 11, 2013

Confident after this morning that they have at least 180 Republican votes in favor of last night’s “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013,” House Speaker John Boehner and the Republican leadership are bringing a floor vote forward to Thursday, probably in the evening.

*** Without saying as much explicitly, Boehner is effectively asserting that at least three quarters of the House’s 233 Republicans ought to be enough to satisfy the so-called “majority of the Majority,” a “rule” conceived by Denny Hastert, the Republican Speaker who lost the majority to Nancy Pelosi in the 2006 elections. And with President Obama’s endorsement of the budget deal, we believe at least 40 to 50 House Democrats will vote for the deal. That will provide more than enough to get to 217 threshold to pass the budget agreement in the House, after which it will be taken up in the Senate where Majority Leader Harry Reid is likely to have an easier time with it. ***

The House Rules Committee is marking up the procedure for the budget deal this afternoon while the leadership will be in meetings the rest of today and tomorrow to whip as many GOP votes as they can. The House must adopt the rule before voting on the actual budget resolution, or specifically, the amendment to the House Joint Resolution 59 that has been stalled since last April. Early next year, the House and Senate will still need to vote on the specific authorization bills on the offsetting savings and revenues and then a host of appropriation bills before the January 15 deadline for the current Continuing Resolution.

The UI Chit

We certainly had a bit of an anxiety attack yesterday morning over the difficult prospects of finding enough House votes by the end of this week to pass a budget agreement if there was a deal struck yesterday (SGH 12/10/13, “US Fiscal: Caution on a Budget Deal”). But that the two co-chairs Ryan and Murray were able to make the announcement last night meant their leadership has already signed off on the details. The leadership was dreading the prospect of extending the House session into next week – something Boehner was extremely reluctant to do – or to punt as we feared into January, which would have opened the door for all sorts of new attacks on the deal.

But instead, the initial soundings over the deal yesterday gave the leadership the confidence that two factors were likely to carry the deal forward — the softening of sequestration on defense and avoiding any trading away of an extension of the unemployment insurance to get this deal.

Many Democrats are still irritated at the exclusion of an extension of Unemployment Insurance, the late demand by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But that the Democrats in the end opted not to press it and risk blowing up the broader budget agreement was telling; we understand that a shortened, backdated extension of 60 and possible 90 days is likely soon after the turn of the year, by attaching it to one of the many appropriation bills that will be forthcoming. But the high value the Democrats are putting on the UI extension provides a powerful chit for the Republicans when the time comes.

On the Republican side, the big issue for the House Tea Party dissidents was never going to be any of the details or the numbers, but rather the symbolism of breaking the BCA spending caps. That was always going to be a hard sell. Peeling away some of their numbers with the higher, unsequestered defense spending certainly helped to erode their opposition.

But more than anything else, the Tea Party numbers have been shrinking ever since the government shutdown fiasco in October. However much it may have been a debacle for the party, Boehner’s support among the wingers has since gone up in that he kept to his word despite the high costs at the time in giving them their platform for defunding Obamacare. That is now likely to pay off with vastly reduced Tea Party numbers opposing this budget agreement. Indeed, Speaker Boehner is hoping to use the budget vote to finally separate the Tea Party into two groups, those are simply too conservative to agree to compromises and those who are mutineers.

Addendum on the Debt Ceiling

Legislation to increase the debt ceiling is not included in any of the votes this week or next. That will have to be dealt with in January or later, but we do not expect a major confrontation this time around in an election year.

More likely, and this is mostly an educated bet, the debt ceiling will be increased to a specific calendar date again that takes the debt ceiling off the table until well after the November 2014 election. It may well then re-appear as a potential “forcing event” for another go at entitlement and tax reform in 2015.

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