Why Boehner will need Dems’ help to thread the budget needle

WHY BOEHNER WILL NEED DEMS’ HELP TO THREAD THE BUDGET NEEDLE…. In general, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) more or less got what he wanted yesterday. He worked out a temporary budget extension that delayed a shutdown deadline by three weeks, while also getting $6 billion in cuts he and his caucus sought, and the package passed the House fairly easily.

That’s the good news. The bad news is the way the developments unfolded left Boehner, well, kind of screwed.

A total of 54 GOP lawmakers from the Speaker’s own caucus broke ranks and opposed their own party’s bill for being insufficiently radical. Plenty more of the 186 House Republicans who did vote for it only did so because it met their arbitrary spending-reduction targets. Had it not been for House Democrats voting for the compromise, the whole deal would have been scuttled the government would have shut down on Friday.

Given this, the NYT reported today that the GOP leadership “could have difficulty selling a final budget compromise to its membership if the plan dips very far below the $61 billion in cuts approved by the House and does not contain policy restrictions on abortion, the new health care law and environmental rules that many House Republicans favor.”

That’s putting it mildly. Boehner has to compromise because there’s a Democratic Senate and a Democratic White House, but his caucus won’t support a compromise because they’re hysterically right-wing — if 54 GOP House members opposed yesterday’s measure, they’ll really hate any deal struck with Harry Reid and President Obama.

The Speaker is then left in the untenable position of needing the votes of House Democrats just to keep the government’s lights on. It led Brian Beutler to argue Boehner has found himself in “Checkmate.”

[T]he 54 Republicans who voted against the stop-gap legislation put him in an unenviable box: Either he kowtows to his right flank, and pushes initiatives that can’t pass in the Senate; or he abandons them, as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has suggested, and passes consensus legislation. The latter option, however, would require significant concessions to win Democratic votes, and further delegitimize himself with the Tea Party base.

If he chooses option (b), he will need Democratic votes. And that would abruptly flip the dynamic on Capitol Hill, where Republicans have been riding high since they trounced Democrats in the November elections.

If he chooses option (a) — if he and his party don’t back off their pitched demand to fundamentally reshape the U.S. government — the consequences they’d hope to avoid — shutdowns and worse — will become all but inevitable.

Also keep in mind how this shifts the negotiating leverage. If Boehner enters budget talks knowing he’s already lost a huge chunk of his caucus and will need to pick up votes from House Dems, it means Boehner will have to eye an eventual deal that can satisfy the House minority and most of his own party.

Boehner would have preferred to ignore House Democrats. Thanks to his own caucus, that’s no longer an option.

The GOP’s far-right wing may not have thought about this, but they’ve made their Speaker weaker, not stronger, in advance of the next round of negotiations.