The Republican Party right now most closely resembles a Weatherman gathering from about 1969, with various factions debating the feasibility of immediate communist revolution versus building a working-class movement as a prelude to smashing the state. As such, distinguishing the various gradients of ideological fanaticism has become an increasingly abstruse task.
The agenda has largely been driven by the “Defund Obamacare” faction, led by Ted Cruz, which proposes to shut down the federal government until such time as President Obama agrees to abolish his health-care plan, which would of course be never. That faction has failed in the Senate, which voted today to keep the government open without demanding the defunding of Obamacare. (Twenty-three Republican senators joined all of the Democrats.)
The question becomes, what will the House do? The House Republican leadership, which is more pragmatic, has tried to dissuade its members from shutting down the government by promising instead to wage a struggle to the death over the debt ceiling. As is sometimes the case in factional battles among extremist sects, the “moderate” faction has wound up endorsing the more radical position. In this case, a debt-ceiling fight could potentially wreak massive worldwide economic havoc, as opposed to the containable disruption of a government shutdown. The leadership dutifully proposed a plan that would tie a debt-ceiling hike in return for President Obama killing his health-care bill and implementing the entire GOP economic agenda.
But a cadre of radical House Republicans voted that plan down. Robert Costa reports that they were inspired to do so by none other than Cruz himself:
According to one House member, the bicameral bloc talked deep into the night about the CR and how to pressure Boehner. At the top of the agenda: making a one-year delay of Obamacare a requirement for government funding, and to accept nothing less, should the defunding effort continue to unravel. There is fear the Boehner is resistant to making that demand as part of a CR, and conservatives discussed ways to force his hand.
Now, the Cruz House bloc can’t exactly force Boehner’s hand here. They can simply force him to pass a bill to keep the government open with Democratic votes. That, of course, would be another win for Cruz — conservatives would be furious at Boehner’s betrayal and looking to potentially depose him:
Either way, Boehner’s fate will rest in the hands of a freshman senator from Texas. He must love that.
Keep in mind that all of this would happen before the House has to vote to lift the debt ceiling. President Obama again reiterated his determination not to negotiate over the debt limit, and if he holds to that, Boehner will be forced either to trigger a global economic meltdown or to marginalize his Cruz wing yet again. So, two dramas will concurrently unfold while Boehner is struggling to maintain some semblance of control in the House and fighting to stave off the Cruz wing from mounting an outright coup.