When Paul Ryan’s spanking new strategy for avoiding a government shutdown on Friday leaked out of the Capitol yesterday, it looked pretty smart. Not wanting to risk bipartisanship in a fraught situation like the present, Ryan crafted a short-term stopgap spending bill designed to pass with only Republican votes in the House, because (a) it did not include any DACA deal, which was very difficult to design in any event, and (b) it had some sweeteners for conservatives, including delays in two Obamacare taxes. Once the bill was through the House on a party-line vote, it would “jam” Senate Democrats because (c) it included a six-year CHIP authorization, which it would look bad for Democrats to kill, and (d) it would put vulnerable Democratic senators in a position of going along or shutting down the government in a fit of pique over the failure of Republicans to grant an immigration “amnesty.”
Thus, the strategy was designed to produce either a win with virtually no GOP concessions, or a government shutdown that could pretty cleanly be blamed on Democrats.
There was only one problem with Ryan’s strategy: Instead of removing the potential for House conservative mischief, it encouraged them to demand more. Practically as soon as the deal was bruited about, House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows was making it known that he and many of his compadres were not onboard with Ryan, and might have enough votes to block the stopgap bill (in conjunction with Democrats who weren’t part of Ryan’s plan at all).
Today, Meadows is more adamant about having the votes to block Ryan’s bill, and is demanding the House leaders arrange — not mañana, but right away — a separate vote on a hard-line GOP “border control” bill that would include funding for Trump’s “border wall.” And he’s suggesting his “no” bloc on the spending bill might be augmented by “defense hawks” who don’t like Ryan’s bill because it doesn’t give them the long-term funding assurances they want.
If the House passes a hard-line Trumpian immigration bill before sending the spending bill over to the Senate, the whole gambit of making Senate Democrats look like the ones being unreasonable on immigration policy could fall apart. But more importantly, House Republicans could themselves produce the government shutdown they’d like either to avoid or blame on Democrats. It’s just not at all clear Congress would have the time to start all over and produce a bipartisan stopgap spending bill by Friday.
Yet if Ryan caves to Meadows’s demand for a vote on what is essentially Trump’s immigration policy, he may be sabotaging any chance of a bipartisan immigration deal, which has to happen before the spending crisis is finally resolved (i.e., when the final stopgap bill expires next month). Today’s report that White House chief of staff John Kelly may be undercutting the president’s position in talks with congressional Democrats is not likely to put POTUS in a conciliatory mood on the subject.
Maybe Meadows is just playing chicken and doesn’t have the votes to force his will on Ryan. But if not, Ryan may have fatally miscalculated what it will take to buy off these difficult people and confront the Senate with a united House Republican caucus. In trying to “jam” Senate Democrats, he may have simply given Mark Meadows the opportunity to jam him.