WASHINGTON -- In the latest round of the government shutdown showdown, several congressional Republicans are pursuing a policy that they either privately disavow or readily admit is unfair.
In his final offer to the Senate Democrats before the shutdown deadline was hit Monday night, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) demanded an end to the federal health care subsidies that aides and lawmakers receive when purchasing coverage through the newly created exchanges.
According to Politico, however, Boehner privately worked behind the scenes to save those very same subsidies, which existed before Congress was forced to purchase coverage on the exchanges and are estimated to be worth between $5,000 and $12,000 annually. Boehner's own staffers, moreover, worked diligently to ensure that his negotiations with Democrats to maintain the subsidies remained a secret.
Though many Republican members were willing to vote Monday night for ending the subsidies, at least 20 philosophically oppose the move, a GOP aide on the Hill told The Huffington Post on background in order to speak freely on party divisions.
The move –- which has been championed by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) -- nevertheless has emerged as the preferred face-saving option for Republicans eager to see an end to the standoff.
After telling reporters that the GOP "can't win" a shutdown fight, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) floated that idea that the Vitter amendment would be a way for House conservatives to potentially claim a modicum of victory.
"I think it would be a very tough vote for [Democratic senators] because overwhelmingly about 97 percent of the American people think that we ought to live like they do, as outrageous as that might seem," McCain said.
But the politics aren't as simple as McCain suggested. In fact, the Arizona Republican himself is torn on the proposal. The Huffington Post spoke with McCain in the halls of the Senate and asked why his and other congressional staffers would have to take a financial hit in order for the government to function.
"I feel terrible for them," McCain said. When asked if his staffers will get screwed by the amendment, he responded, "If it goes through, yeah. I'm already looking at my staff to see how we can adjust the money."
So why pursue a policy that he considers unfair to his own workers?
"It is not a good situation. But when Americans say that they want us to live like everybody else, I understand that," McCain said. "The Office of Personnel Management [OPM] issued a ruling that made us and our staffs in a different category than any other American. And other Americans don’t understand why we would be in a different category."
Others in his party basically agree. Speaking to reporters shortly before the midnight deadline for a shutdown was breached, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) also suggested that the Vitter amendment could be a way around the impasse.
"I would like to see just a rejection of the OPM ruling that gives special treatment to Congress," Johnson said. "I think that would be something that would be very difficult for [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid to swat away."
Johnson may, in the end, get his wish. House Republicans have shown no sign of backing off the Vitter amendment, at least as of Tuesday morning. But other senators were already looking for alternative routes around the gridlock.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) proposed passing a one-week continuing resolution that didn't touch Obamacare for the purposes of letting talks and negotiations continue. He also suggested that he would be fine passing a longer-term continuing resolution to fund the government if it came with some sort of agreement from Reid to pursue health care reforms outside of the context of government shutdown negotiations.
"We could do it that way," Paul said. "If Harry Reid will come forward and say we will fix these problems outside of this deadline and we will fund the government for a month or two, I bet you that will pass."