John Boehner’s shock decision to resign as House Speaker at the end of next month reorders an already-complicated Congressional to-do list for the remainder of the year.
In the immediate term, lawmakers appear to have forged a compromise to avoid a government shutdown. Hard-right conservative Republicans — the same crowd angling for Boehner’s ouster — have been threatening a revolt over any government funding package that includes continued federal support for Planned Parenthood.
But on Friday, representatives for that group indicated they would accept an agreement hatched by leadership to pass a short-term patch. The plan will fund federal operations into December, averting a shutdown that would otherwise result when government agencies run out of money at the end of this month. A similar budget impasse forced a two-week shutdown in 2013.
Boehner, the sudden short-termer, is then set to use a separate legislative process known as reconciliation to hotwire a bill stripping funding for Planned Parenthood, and, possibly, the Affordable Care Act. That would draw a veto from President Obama, setting up a new fight in Congress over sustaining it that would likely fall to Boehner’s successor to manage.
A potentially trickier problem lies just around the bend. The U.S. passed its $18.1 trillion borrowing limit in March, forcing the Treasury Department to use special maneuvers since to continue servicing the country’s debt. But the feds are expected to exhaust those accounting moves sometime between late October and early December, forcing lawmakers to lift the debt ceiling to avoid a default. It’s unclear what price conservative hardliners will demand for agreeing to support such an increase in U.S. borrowing authority.
Managing the three-dimensional chess of these challenges atop a deeply divided House Republican conference proved tricky enough for a veteran like Boehner. How his replacement would handle them following a potentially draining succession battle remains to be seen.
And then there’s the chance that Boehner tries to tackle the issue himself before he packs up for good. Freed from worry about an always-looming conservative coup, the Ohio Republican could forge a deal, for example, that relies on Democratic votes to lift the debt ceiling. President Obama nodded toward that possibility in his first comments on Boehner’s announcement. Appearing alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping in a Rose Garden news conference Friday, Obama praised the spirit of compromise that Boehner brought to his work and noted that he still has roughly a month left on the job. “Hopefully he feels like getting as much stuff done as he possibly can,” the president said.