A Government Shutdown Just Became More Likely

Photograph by Joel Carillet

Republican leaders in the House canceled a test vote this afternoon that was supposed to pave the way for continued funding of the federal government, which is set to expire at month’s end. This makes a government shutdown more likely: Republican leaders folded because they couldn’t marshal enough support from within their own party.

The reason for the intra-GOP fight is that the party is of two minds about how—and really, whether—to keep trying to kill the Affordable Care Act. Conservatives aligned with the Tea Party, including lawmakers affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, want to kill the law at any price. Establishment Republicans in the House leadership don’t want to have a knock-down, drag-out fight over Obamacare that might force a government shutdown.

So House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) unveiled a measure that pretended to strike a blow against Obamacare, but really did nothing of the sort—although it did all but guarantee that the government would keep running, come Oct. 1. The ploy relied on a gimmick allowing the House to vote on a continuing resolution to fund the government that also stripped out funding for Obamacare. That’s exactly what Tea Party conservatives are demanding.

But—and here’s the catch—Cantor’s rule contained an “enrollment correction,” a parliamentary procedure that allows a bill’s author to add instructions that determine what happens once it leaves the House and goes to the Senate. Cantor’s instructions would have cleaved the bill in two: a measure to defund Obamacare and a “clean” funding bill to keep the government running. The Senate probably would have voted down the defund measure and passed its counterpart. Presto: crisis defused.

Except that House Republicans serious about killing Obamacare refused to go along in big enough numbers that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Cantor didn’t think they had the votes to pass their plan. With no clear fallback position—a continuing resolution that legitimately strips Obamacare funding would probably die in the Senate—a shutdown is now more likely.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.