WASHINGTON -- Now comes the waiting.
With the Senate set to dispatch an always-futile effort to pass government funding legislation that defunds the president's health care law, lawmakers in both chambers of Congress are already considering the options before them.
Lawmakers moved hastily to talks on Wednesday -- just hours after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) ended a 21-hour-plus speech meant to encourage lawmakers to support the defunding effort -- with attention focused on two offices.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hold most of the power in the remaining few days of a government shutdown showdown before the government runs out of money to operate at the end of September. Republican aides in both chambers feel that Boehner's hand has been strengthened by Cruz's inability to move the debate in the Senate. But they caution that Reid could still gum up any House plans by keeping Senate Democrats united.
That's why four separate senior aides from both chambers say they would be very surprised if Boehner turned around and tried to craft another short-term continuing resolution that sought major changes to the president's health care law.
On Tuesday night, reports emerged that House Republicans were considering adding a one-year delay to the law's individual mandate in their next legislative offer. But sources on the Hill quickly put a stop to the suggestions.
One top GOP aide said putting that provision into the next draft of a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government was not "at all likely," in part because the party has already decided to make a delay to the mandate a part of their proposal for lifting the debt ceiling in mid-October.
A Senate Republican aide echoed that theory. When asked whether the party would touch Obamacare during the next CR debate, the aide responded, "I seriously doubt it."
Part of the problem is simple math. If Republicans were to turn around and try to tinker with the health care law as part of a continuing resolution deal, it would be defeated in the Senate. One top Democratic aide in that chamber called a mandate-delay "dead on arrival." Even if it got through the Senate, an Obama administration official confirmed that there was zero chance the president would support such a measure.
So how does Boehner deal with this reality as well as the vocal community of House conservatives who demand that he stand firm on defunding or derailing Obamacare? One possibility, speculated on by multiple Hill sources, is that he quickly unveils a debt limit bill to placate that faction of his caucus; or even holds a vote on such a bill next week. After that, he could pass a "clean" continuing resolution.
“We'll deal with whatever the Senate passes when they pass it," Boehner spokesman Michael Steele told The Huffington Post's Mike McAuliff Wednesday, when asked about future plans. "There’s no point in speculating before that.”
One issue with that plan, however, is that it would take too long to complete. By the end of September, the government will have run out of money, meaning that a stopgap funding measure would be needed. On Wednesday, the National Review reported that just such a measure was now under consideration –- a report confirmed by that Senate Republican aide, who noted that the two parties were running precariously low on time to hammer out a deal anyway.
"It is always a possibility in these scenarios," the aide said. "If they pass something over there and send it over here and suddenly it is the 30th [of September], logistically it is almost impossible to do something that quickly before the deadline."
Whether Reid would agree to a one-week CR is another unanswered question. He has pushed for a bill that would take the government through mid-November, even though members of his own party wanted one that lasted at least a month longer. A request for comment from his office was not immediately returned as staffers were huddling to discuss next steps.
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