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Assuming House Passage, Reid Holds Key to Defund/Delay Strategy

U.S. Capitol

The Senate is not required to vote on the House stopgap spending bill.

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Many critics of the plan to defund Obamacare via the continuing resolution (CR) have spent several days crowing that it’s now up to senators like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee to make sure the House CR passes the Senate. And if doesn’t, then the responsibility for failure lies with Cruz and other Senate conservatives.

This Politico story from last week, though a bit dated, does a good job of capturing the “It’s now Ted Cruz’s problem” attitude of many defund skeptics in the House:

But in quiet conversations among senior Republican aides, other motivations are becoming clear, as well. They say passing the defunding resolution along with the CR and sending it to the Senate is a dare, of sorts, to Senate Republicans.

But it’s not a foregone conclusion that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will pick up the House CR in the Senate and have the Senate vote on an amendment that would strip out the provisions that defund Obamacare. In fact, Reid doesn’t need to do anything with the House bill at all.

If Reid wants to send a CR over to the House to put the ball back in the House GOP’s court and avoid a standalone vote on defunding Obamacare, he merely needs to introduce and proceed to a brand new Senate bill, fill the amendment tree, file cloture, and pass it back to the House. That strategy prevents any and all amendments from being considered. Harry Reid simply does not have to force the Senate to consider any CR bill that starts in the House.

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, this is actually a feature of the defund strategy, rather than a bug, and it’s why the strategy’s proponents picked the CR as their procedural target. Remember that under this strategy, the threat of a government shutdown is the sole point of leverage controlled by the GOP. To defunders, the brinkmanship is what gives the strategy teeth (delayers understand this as well, but they believe they’ll have even more leverage and greater political cover by taking the debt limit increase hostage).

The Senate doesn’t necessarily need to pass a pre-shutdown CR for the defund strategy to be effective. The whole point is to force Senate Democrats and the White House to blink and compromise on their core demands. If that is going to happen at all, it almost certainly will not happen until we’re on the brink of a shutdown or well past it.

Because of that dynamic, the refusal of the Senate to immediately pass or vote on the House CR doesn’t represent failure of the defund strategy at all. If and when the Senate passes its own CR, the ball will be back in House Speaker John Boehner’s court, and we’ll be right back where we started.