WASHINGTON – House Speaker John Boehner lost the shutdown showdown in ignominious fashion, winning not a single concession of any value from Democrats and exposing his majority as powerless to advance conservative causes.
The one thing Boehner did seem to manage to hold on to was his job. The always embattled speaker let his recalcitrant conservatives effectively run the show for the past month, and even as they lost badly, he won grudging respect from some who sought to take his gavel away earlier this year.
We fought the good fight. We just didnt win, Boehner told a local Cincinnati radio host in his only public comments Wednesday.
But the outcome also left the speaker without any clear plan for governing or for unifying a wickedly fractured GOP caucus that has repeatedly divided when it needed to unite. The only slice of hope any Republican could muster Wednesday was that GOP lawmakers may have finally learned a lesson about banding together rather than undercutting their leaders.
What the House GOP now faces is a series of contentious fiscal fights over the next four months along the exact same lines. First up will be the House-Senate committee that is tasked with trying to resolve differences in the competing farm bills that the two chambers passed, with the House taking a far more conservative approach to slashing funding for nutrition programs.
Some Republicans on Capitol Hill were stunned by the collapse of any ability to advance a final legislative product from the House that might effectively corner Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. – possibly to win some legitimate conservative concessions.
Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., said aloud what some Republicans had been whispering about privately – that House leaders needed to focus on forming a coalition of the willing. Schock was angry that the leaders spent almost a month passing legislation that was designed to court arch conservatives, so that they could boast that they had the votes entirely from their side of the aisle, even as the legislation was repeatedly flicked away by Reids Senate Democrats.
Lets not wait till the end of the day, lets start at the beginning of the day, and say, Who wants to be a part of a constructive majority? he said. Lets start negotiating in the House with people who want to get things done.
Nobody can be sure, however, in the next fiscal fights ahead whether the most conservative Republicans will be willing to join with their leaders or stand on the sidelines with the collection of outside groups that advanced this particular strategy of shutting down the government as a bid to try to gut Obamas landmark health care initiative.
After weeks and weeks of letting the conservatives take the lead, Boehner tried late last week to advance a few different ideas that would possibly gain traction from House Democrats and, if passed in the House, would give Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leverage in his final talks with Reid.
Those broke down Saturday morning, and by Monday night, McConnell was on the verge of a deal with Reid that could not even win the repeal of a tax on medical devices that most conservatives and many Democrats opposed.
In conversations then and Tuesday morning, Boehner decided to give it one final try. He would push a bill that would repeal that tax, get an audit of how subsidies are handed out to low-income participants in the laws insurance exchanges, and end subsidies to lawmakers, their staffs and senior administration officials participating in the exchanges.
That blew up at a Tuesday morning meeting in HC5, as conservatives thought those were insufficient concessions for allowing a debt limit increase and funding the federal government. The leadership team realized by late afternoon they had no chance at passage.
By 7 p.m., McConnell left the Capitol having already agreed to most of the much worse deal for Republicans.
Senate Republicans split on Boehners performance, some feeling pity for what he has to deal with.
I just feel badly about the way the speaker of the House has been treated on his side, by members of his own party, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, adding, I just bitterly resent some of the things that have gone on.
Others contrasted Boehners performance with how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cut a deal that averted political and financial disaster while also facing political pressure from his right flank in the form of a 2014 GOP primary challenge.
We gave the House every chance to pass something over here. For a variety of reasons, they were unable to do it, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said. He said there is no question McConnell is a stronger leader today for cutting this deal.
There are those moments when you either take the gas, or take the initiative. And he (McConnell) took the initiative, Isakson said.
Boehner said he keeps looking for the positive outcome.
Theres no giving up on our team. None. And theres no giving up in me, Boehner said.