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As Democratic and Republican Senators close in on a deal that could bring resolution to the budget crisis that has sent the government shutdown into its third week and a looming debt default only days away, the wild card that could still derail any agreement is House Speaker John Boehner and his collection of right-wing GOP ideologues.
“We’re close to bringing this whole mess to a satisfactory end but it could still all fall apart if Boehner doesn’t buy into the agreement and, even if he does, he may not be able to control the always-unpredictable conservatives in the House,” a worried GOP strategist told Capitol Hill Blue late Monday afternoon.
That prediction, made Monday, came true Tuesday when Boehner unveiled a rival budget and debt relief plan that, once again, added unacceptable conditions to any hope for resolution and replaced optimism with traditional “more of the same” doubts.
Even die-hard Republicans who watch polls showing their approval rating with voters falling to historic lows admit that the House Republican Speaker is never predictable.
Some say Boehner is not happy that that the focus for settlement shifted to the Senate and left him and other House Republicans waiting in the wings.
“The one sure thing about John Boehner is his ego,” says longtime GOP strategist Jonathan Schuman. “He prefers to be at the center and he hasn’t been there since last week.”
GOP aides say the Speaker was ready to sound off at a planned meeting at the White House at 3 p.m. Monday and retreated behind closed doors when the meeting was postponed indefinitely to give Republicans and Democrats in the Senate more time to work on a deal.
House insiders say Boehner could have prevented the current crisis by allowing votes on previous Senate bills that would have passed and allowed the government to reopen and the debt ceiling to be lifted. The bills could have passed with votes from both Democrats and Republicans but would have angered the tea party Republicans who threaten to oust Boehner as speaker if he does so.
Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, says that if Boehner allows a vote on any bill that does not end Obamacare, he can kiss his speaker’s post goodbye.
Some Republicans, however, are fed up with tea party intervention and want Boehner to tell Martin and her followers to “stuff it.”
Another wild card is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a tea party poster child from Virginia.
“Cantor could, and would, derail the deal if he thought it would help his plan to unseat Boehner and secure the Speaker’s chair,” says one longtime GOP congressional staff member who is close to the current Speaker. “That’s his real goal in all this.”
At present, the only consensus among Republican insiders at the House is that there are too many private agendas within their own party to reach a consensus on the budget and deficit crisis.
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