As predicted, the government has shutdown after congress failed to pass a new funding bill. But for a few brief hours, it looked like a gang of Republican moderates might bolt from the GOP and avert a shutdown. In the end, the moderate revolt failed to materialize—but not without possible consequences for the resolution of the shutdown and upcoming fight over the debt ceiling.
Around 6PM last night, just about every well-connected reporter with ties to the GOP was catching wind of a brewing moderate revolt. The National Review’s Jonathan Strong reported that 25 relative moderates, led by Peter King, were going to side with Democrats over a continuing resolution. Pennsylvania Republican Charlie Dent also said he would support a clean continuing resolution. And apparently, the moderates were not alone. Byron York reported that the preponderance of House Republicans—perhaps as many as three-quarters of the GOP caucus—supported a clean continuing resolution.
But the moderate revolt evaporated when the time came to vote “no” on a bill that could have brought down the newest GOP volley to the Senate. In the end, only two moderates voted “no”—Peter King and Charlie Dent.
It’s not surprising that King and Dent are at odds with the tea party. Both hail from competitive districts in the northeast. Dent’s district, which stretches west from the Lehigh Valley, voted for Romney by just 3 points. President Obama actually won Peter King’s district, which includes parts of Long Island. Both voted for the fiscal cliff compromise—unlike most House Republicans. But although both districts are far more competitive than the average House Republican, both won reelection by comfortable margins last November. So neither is so vulnerable that one should assume they’re simply responding to electoral pressures.
And it seems hard to imagine that those reports about a moderate revolt were completely unfounded. Indeed, a follow-up article by Strong suggested that the revolt fizzled when Boehner reassured dissenters. Exactly how isn’t clear, but Strong reports that Boehner told the moderates that he would make the best out of a dire situation and understood their concerns.
Obviously, discontent wasn’t enough to avoid a government shutdown. But the mere existence of 20 to 30 Republicans willing to consider bolting from the party line over a budget shutdown bodes well for the country’s odds of avoiding a debt limit debacle, which would do far more harm than a government shutdown. And depending on how Boehner reassured antsy moderates, he may well have a relatively painless vision of how to proceed. Perhaps as importantly, Boehner's weak left flank has been exposed. It's now all but impossible to imagine Democrats backing down--even ahead of a debt ceiling showdown.