After months of preaching a more laid-back approach to leadership and allowing the House to “work its will,” Republican leaders Tuesday reluctantly opened the traditional legislating playbook and started leaning on their rank and file to line up behind Speaker John Boehner’s debt limit proposal.
But they face a daunting task, as House conservatives, outside groups and Senate brethren all are coming out against the Ohio Republican’s plan.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) led the charge for leadership, demanding that his Members “stop grumbling and whining” about Boehner’s plan and rally around the Speaker before it is too late.
Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s (Calif.) team also swung into action, pressing reluctant Republicans to back the measure, which it described as “the last Republican train out of the station,” warning that a failure to pass the bill could turn a Senate Democratic proposal into a must-pass measure.
And while leaders publicly and privately attempted to keep up the appearance of confidence, they acknowledged it was far from certain that Boehner’s bill would pass.
“It may be too late” to play hardball with the GOP Conference, a veteran Republican aide warned.
In fact, despite the pressure, Members rolled out their opposition just hours after Boehner went on national television Monday night to argue for his plan.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) on Tuesday said, “I am confident, as of this morning, that there were not 218 Republicans in support” of Boehner’s proposal. His comments took leadership off guard and angered top Republicans, who were frustrated by his decision to discuss GOP whip counts publicly.
“It may be the last train leaving the station ... [but] I’m sure leaning against it,” Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday.
Others, such as Rep. Scott Garrett (N.J.), are leaning toward opposing Boehner’s bill or, at best, remain undecided.
There have been some bright spots for Boehner. Rep. Allen West, who signed a letter demanding that a balanced budget amendment be sent to the states before he would vote for a debt increase, said Tuesday that he will support Boehner’s bill. “This Boehner plan doesn’t have everything that I wanted ... [but] that’s part of what you have to have here in Washington, D.C.,” the Florida Republican said.
Likewise, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out in support of the bill, saying it would make a “yes” vote on the measure a key vote, which might help shore up moderates and business-minded freshmen. On Monday, Americans for Tax Reform gave the plan its blessing as well.
Still, even those who said they were leaning toward voting for the bill appeared to do so reluctantly.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.