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Boehner may be down, but he’s not out: Lynn Sweet

 
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Speaker House Rep. John Boehner R-Ohio pumps his fist as he walks past reporters after meeting with House Republicans Capitol

Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, pumps his fist as he walks past reporters after a meeting with House Republicans on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013 in Washington. The partial government shutdown is in its third week and less than two days before the Treasury Department says it will be unable to borrow and will rely on a cash cushion to pay the country's bills. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

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HOW THEY VOTED

The bill approved Wednesday by Congress ends the shutdown immediately and finances federal agencies through Jan. 15; it also extends the government’s authority to borrow money until Feb. 7.

In the Senate (81-18):

Democrats: 52 yes, 0 no

Republicans: 27 yes, 18 no

Independents: 2 yes, 0 no

Democrats not voting: 0

Republicans not voting: 1

In the House (285-144):

Democrats: 198 yes, 0 no

Republicans: 87 yes, 144 no

Democrats not voting: 2

Republicans not voting: 1

Vacancies: 3

Updated: November 18, 2013 8:03AM



WASHINGTON — Congress averted a catastrophe on Wednesday by reaching a short-term stopgap deal to raise the debt ceiling and to reopen all of federal government, with only hours to spare before a default.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) totally capitulated on Day 16 of the shutdown and just before the Thursday deadline to raise the debt limit.

The Senate passed the bill 81-18, sending it to the House, where it was approved on a 285-144 roll call and sent to President Barack Obama to sign. The only lawmaker from Illinois to vote against the measure was Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.).

After House Republican leaders led the nation into the partial government shutdown over bids to defund, delay or otherwise derail Obamacare, they were forced to fold with almost nothing to show for taking the nation to the brink of economic disaster.

“Trying to do our best to stop Obamacare. We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win,” Boehner told Cincinnati radio station WLW on Wednesday.

But Boehner remains in charge of his splintered troops to fight another day — since the agreement Congress reached is only temporary and kicks contentious debt, deficit and budget issues over to early next year.

The debt ceiling was raised through Feb. 7. The federal government was funded only until Jan. 15.

Boehner embraced the cause of a relatively small number of hard right lawmakers who come from the Tea Party wing of the family — who appreciated that Boehner was willing to lead them to the brink.

When House Republicans met earlier on Wednesday, Boehner was given a standing ovation.

The last weeks have been bruising for Boehner.

He ended up allowing an up-or-down vote in the House to pass the Senate bill — something he had not been willing to do these past three weeks, resisting because he did not want the legislation to pass on the backs of Democrats.

The results are embarrassing for the leader, but that setback will be short-lived. There are no signs of a GOP revolt against him. What happens after the 2014 elections may be another story.

For now, “I think Speaker Boehner will have the job as long as he wants it,” Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) told me, “because no one who could have it seems to want it.”

After the Senate passed the shutdown/debt ceiling bill, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told me outside the Senate chamber, “I think some people who are overly enthusiastic about hurting the speaker should remind themselves that maybe a leader would come forward that was not nearly as good as John.”

Kirk’s point is “that if in some way the speaker is toppled, you got to think about, you could get worse, I would argue, substantially worse than John Boehner.”

When I talked about Boehner with other reporters in the Capitol Saturday with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), he said it was important for Republicans to shore up the speaker.

“I believe that one of the causalities of a strategy that was unrealistic, if it turned out to be John Boehner, it would be bad for the country and bad for the party, and that’s what people need to think about,” Graham said.

Boehner was never wildly enthusiastic about the drive, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), to try to take out Obamacare, President Barack Obama’s signature health care plan.

Cruz showed he could start a fight by trying to leverage government funding and debt-ceiling measures. But Cruz had absolutely no game plan — other than raising his own profile — on how to take down or even ding Obamacare, even as the health insurance marketplaces opened Oct. 1 with a shaky start because of website glitches.

Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, one of the groups encouraging the Obamacare showdown — and urging lawmakers to vote no on Wednesday — did not name Boehner when I asked him about the strategy that left Republicans empty-handed.

“We didn’t get anything that we wanted,” Kibbe said. But “Republicans weren’t willing to fight — and there was a split in the caucus. . . . Some wanted to fight, some didn’t.”

Boehner said in a statement before the votes that “the House has fought with everything it has to convince the president of the United States to engage in bipartisan negotiations aimed at addressing our country’s debt and providing fairness for the American people under Obamacare.”

“That fight will continue. But blocking the bipartisan agreement reached today by the members of the Senate will not be a tactic for us.”

Outside the House chamber, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told me, “This is not a moment where on our side of the aisle we feel any sense of jubilation. It’s more of relief. We averted a crisis.”

With 2014 elections getting closer — and with polls showing Republicans getting blamed for the shutdown/debt ceiling mess — Boehner next year may not want to gamble by trying to leverage the 2014 debt ceiling and government funding deadlines.

I asked Schakowsky how much a wounded Boehner helps Democrats. “I think he will see a tremendous disadvantage of going through this again. And I think most Republicans will not want to replay this episode, which has been very detrimental to them.”

Said Kirk, “I think that tool has been put in the barn, permanently. Brinksmanship is not in the interest of the national economy.”

Email: lsweet@suntimes.com

Twitter: @lynnsweet



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