"Speaker Ted Cruz" is back, right on schedule, to make John Boehner's life a nightmare

Ted Cruz and House conservatives are once again trying to derail John Boehner's plans. Who could've guessed?

Published December 3, 2014 7:37PM (EST)

                                                        (Jeffrey Malet, maletphoto/Reuters/Jason Reed)
(Jeffrey Malet, maletphoto/Reuters/Jason Reed)

When the House GOP leadership floated its government funding strategy early this week -- the (please kill me immediately for typing this) "cromnibus" plus a separate protest vote denouncing President Obama's immigration executive action -- the first thought I had was "Oh my God, Ted Cruz." Then I thought "Oh my God, Steve King." As in: Ted Cruz and Steve King will not at all be happy with this, and they'll probably try to nuke it.

Just look at the way the maneuver was being represented, accurately, in the press: a "symbolic vote" against the president's immigration move. That's not going to fly with the right. As we wrote earlier in the week, if the House leadership was able to satisfy the right by offering them an opportunity to "vent," John Boehner's life would be a lot easier. There would never be shutdown or debt default fears; the speaker could simply serve up a useless "vent" vote each time to mollify conservative rage and then move on with the business of marginally competent governance. But alas, these "venting" votes don't fool conservatives: They want policies they don't like stricken from the books, and arguments about how they don't have the numbers to do so will not persuade them.

And so you'll never guess who met for breakfast this morning, right on schedule:

The “Hell No” caucus is once again causing headaches for Republican leadership.

A cadre of the House’s most conservative members will meet Wednesday morning at the Capitol Hill Club for Rep. Steve King’s regular breakfast to discuss lame duck legislation. Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who often serves as a de facto spokesman for congressional hardliners, is expected to attend.

Cruz will join King and outgoing Rep. Michele Bachmann this afternoon for a press conference calling for a new strategy: a short-term continuing resolution -- presumably for the funding of the entire government, not just DHS -- that "includes language defunding the implementation of the president’s executive action on amnesty."

So that's where things are: in the most predictable possible place after the leadership thought it could get away with offering up a bloodless opportunity to "vent." Boehner can afford 18 defections, assuming Nancy Pelosi can withhold Democratic support -- something that she'll probably try to do now that it's clear there's another opportunity to humiliate John Boehner's leadership in the offing. Politico reports that there are already a dozen Republican "no" votes for the (kill me, again) "cromnibus + dumb protest vote" plan, and "that dissent appears to be spreading." That's just Speaker Ted Cruz and his loyal deputy Steve King working their magic, like they always do.

Even with all of these new, predictable problems, though, it would be shocking if there was a shutdown when funding runs out Dec. 11. Nothing gets lawmakers more focused on wrapping up business than the idea of having to work into their next recess.

But it would be equally shocking to see the leadership's plan, as is, survive. There are going to have to be modifications, if only for conservatives to show that they were able to extract modifications. Having to discard the omnibus package funding the government until next September entirely might be a step too far for Boehner and the heavyweights on the appropriations committee. That would be an extraordinary defeat for the leadership, and punt the entirety of the government funding debate -- instead of just the debate over funding DHS -- into next year.

It's possible that the terms of short-term continuing resolution for DHS could be shortened. "[M]any conservatives think a three-month extension of funding for the Department of Homeland Security is too long," Politico writes. "There are a good number of Republican hard-liners who want to fight in the early days of their new majority." Well ... OK? If they want to deal with avoiding a partial shutdown a few minutes after their swearing-in luncheon in January, they can go ahead and do that. They'd better know what they're doing, though, since shutting down the Department of Homeland Security immediately after ringing in the new Congress would be, well, poor for the Republican brand.

But of course they don't know what they're doing. The (KILL ME NOW) "cromnibus" strategy always lacked an end-game. It would fund most of the government and then deal with DHS funding a few months into the next year. And how, precisely, would GOP leaders "deal" with DHS funding a few months into the next year? No one has a clue.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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Congress Cromnibus Editor's Picks Government Shutdown House John Boehner Republicans Ted Cruz