Senate Democrats appear to be focusing in on a singular pressure point in the hours before a potential government shutdown: forcing Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, to bring their "clean" spending bill to the House floor for a vote.
Emerging from a caucus meeting Monday, Democratic rank and file told groups of reporters that if Boehner called a vote on the Senate-approved continuing resolution, there would be enough support to send it to the president — bolstered, of course, by a large number of Democratic votes.
Minutes later — at a news conference following the Senate's vote to table the Obamacare-related riders added by House Republicans — Democratic leaders echoed that message. It's one of the first times in recent memory that in the hours before a deadline, Democrats seem united by a message and willing to blow by a deadline that could bring economic consequences. Of course, the White House — which traditionally has been the least willing to do just that — has not yet moved to undermine Senate Democrats' apparent resolve.
"I have a very simple message to John Boehner: Let the House work. Stop trying to force a government shutdown. Let the House work its will. All 435 members. Not just the majority. If they brought this bill to the floor ... it would pass by a large margin," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said. "If John Boehner blocks this, it would be forcing a government shutdown. And it would be a Republican government shutdown, pure and simple. ... The votes are there to pass a clean CR."
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., added, "They need to do what we do in a democracy, which is put it on the floor and let them vote. And if it is defeated, then we can talk about something else. But they haven't even had a chance to vote on it. ... I'm looking in the Constitution and I see nowhere where the speaker of the House has the power to not allow everyone to vote. So they need to let everybody vote and if they defeat our version the way we defeated theirs, then we can talk about something else. But do you know what's going to happen if he lets them vote? It's going to pass."
Of course, 18 or so House GOP votes would be necessary to pass such a bill if all House Democrats voted for it, which is not guaranteed given that liberal members have balked at the spending level in the CR. And there could be political consequences for Boehner and any of the Republicans who would need to vote "yes" on legislation without the policy riders that have enticed their more conservative colleagues.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, when asked about the Democrats' claim that there were enough votes in the House to pass their CR, said in a statement: "As the Speaker just said, we are totally focused on passing a bill that will keep the government running and provide fairness for all."
But Democrats clearly like where they currently stand in the debate over funding the government, and to concede now would just diminish their leverage in the upcoming fight to extend the debt limit.