GOP moderates should stop whining, and reopen the government

If Peter King really wants to end this mess, he has the power to do so. Here's what he should do right now

By Brian Beutler

Published October 2, 2013 6:27PM (EDT)

Peter King               (AP/Manuel Balce Cenata)
Peter King (AP/Manuel Balce Cenata)

The House GOP leadership's current position is that reopening the government at House GOP-approved spending levels constitutes "Democrats get[ting] everything they want," according to John Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel. In other words, Republicans still aren't prepared to reopen the government unless Democrats cough up some kind of concession -- likely an Obamacare concession that Democrats aren't going to give them.

That thud you just heard was the sound of dozens of House Republican heads banging against the walls of the Capitol. They're tired of this already. They know they can't win. They want Boehner to put the bipartisan Senate-passed spending bill on the House floor and get out of the way.

Under the circumstances, it's important to remember that these Republicans probably have it within their power to wrest control from Boehner and fund the government. They definitely had it within their power earlier in the week. But at the moment of truth they pulled a collective Brave Sir Robin.

Moderate Republicans could have defected Monday night and blocked all of Boehner's extortionary spending bills, which would have left the speaker little choice but to pass the Senate's rider-free spending bill. Instead they fell into line.

Later today they could -- repeat, could -- have an opportunity to bring this all to an end again.

House Republicans will put narrow legislation on the floor of the House to fund popular, politically high-valence parts of the government later this afternoon.

When they do, Democrats will be able to offer what are known as motions to recommit. These are among the very few power levers the House minority enjoys. But over time they have become formalities. It's different for members to vote against party leaders on matters of substance than it is to directly undermine their legislative strategies by siding with the other party on procedural matters. So votes on these motions have become extremely rote. The majority typically kills them unanimously (or near-unanimously) and the minority then tries, usually in vain, to turn those votes into political liabilities -- press releases, 30-second ads, etc.

But the opening exists. If Dems offer a motion to recommit these rifle-shot bills with instructions to swap them out with the Senate's bill to reopen the government, a majority (currently 217 votes) carries. If the chair declares the motion out of order, 217 votes overturns the chair's ruling.

That would put an end to the shutdown.

Now I'm quite confident that even if the Democrats go this route, an insufficient number of Republicans will defect to end the shutdown. It would be a breach of typical House custom.

But these aren't typical times. Right now a couple dozen House conservatives are, implicitly or explicitly, threatening to defrock Boehner if he ends the shutdown before extorting Democrats. That's why Boehner feels he can't come back from this fight empty-handed. The sensible Republicans who want to reopen the government can be just as aggressive in the direction of sanity, and use what power they have to snuff out the insurrection.

They almost certainly won't. But you should remember that next time you hear Peter King or Charlie Dent whining about how the inmates have taken over the asylum.

Brian Beutler

Brian Beutler is Salon's political writer. Email him at and follow him on Twitter at @brianbeutler.

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