House GOP leaders quietly spent the latter part of the summer trying to convince their conference that defunding Obamacare through the continuing resolution was a terrible idea. And now, in one day, leadership has seemingly convinced the entire conference that the very plan it lobbied against for months is the best way forward. How did the leaders do it?
The short answer: They didn’t.
While House Republicans appear united on defunding Obamacare through the CR — Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California told reporters Wednesday morning that he has never seen the Republican conference “so united” — there are secret divisions on the plan within the House GOP.
Leadership has really sold two plans: one for the roughly 180 Republican supporters of the initial strategy to force the Senate to strip Obamacare funding in the CR, and another plan for the roughly 50 GOP holdouts who were unsatisfied.
For the conservative holdouts, the current strategy is the best-case scenario.
“I just think it’s a good plan,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee and an avid supporter of defunding Obamacare through the CR. “Look: It funds the government and delays Obamacare. That’s what the American people want us to do.”
Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., who sponsored his own defund Obamacare spending bill, told reporters Wednesday that the current plan “accomplishes the goals that we all were seeking, and that is keeping the government open and protecting our constituents from the harmful effects of Obamacare.”
“It gives everyone everything they want,” a senior GOP aide told CQ Roll Call. “It defunds Obamacare, locks in the sequester savings and it avoids a government shutdown."
Indeed, the current big-tent, best-case-scenario plan does give Republicans everything they want. It just almost certainly won’t pass the Senate, and it stands even less of a chance of getting President Barack Obama’s signature.
The other, perhaps more realistic Republicans — who also want to keep the sequester but avoid a government shutdown — are hoping this new tack to the right won’t cost them their goals. They are hoping the plan gives conservatives the vote they wanted, gives Republicans the negotiating leverage they wouldn’t have without 218 votes and gives Republican holdouts a dose of reality.
Many say they are also hoping it gives Senate Republicans a chance to put some skin in the legislative game.
“The fight over here has been won,” Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday. “It’s time for the Senate to have that fight.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a close Boehner ally and one of the many Republicans who supported the earlier GOP plan, had similar thoughts.
“We’re giving what a lot of Senate Republicans asked for,” Cole said. “And we’ll see now what they can do with it.”
Cole continued: “We can’t, frankly, control the Senate or the president. We didn’t win those elections. And the people that are in the Senate, if they want this opportunity, we’re going to give it to them.”
Boehner had left himself some wiggle room prior to the new strategy, often repeating in recent weeks, “No decisions have been made regarding a CR.”
It was that wiggle room that allowed him to adapt to a Republican conference that heard from its constituents over the August recess, time and time again, that they wanted to see a genuine effort to defund Obamacare.
Cole said the GOP conference appreciates that “leadership listened and tried to adopt something that’s inclusive and that would keep us together and would get us to 218.”
But the move also prompted new questions about whether Boehner had lost control of the conference.
Boehner turned the question around.
"The key to any leadership job is to listen," he said.