12/03/2014 09:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Cromnibus Stop?

There are plenty of metaphors to choose from, as we all breathlessly watch the Republican Party make their latest attempt at semi-rational governing. Since the vehicle chosen for this Washington drama has been dubbed the "cromnibus," these metaphors all lean on the transportation theme. Will the wheels on the cromnibus go 'round and 'round? Are Tea Partiers waiting at the cromnibus stop, or will they just stop the cromnibus? Will the cromnibus even leave its House depot? Who will be forced to sit at the back of the cromnibus? Republicans are either on the cromnibus, or off the cromnibus (warning: due to its origins in the counterculture, Republicans may not get the reference in this last one).

The problem, as usual, comes from the Tea Party faction in the Republican Party. Since Nancy Pelosi has now signaled that Democrats are going to essentially sit this one out, John Boehner will be forced to pass his new budget scheme through the House with only Republican votes. If enough of them (fewer than 20, assuming no Democrat votes for it) decide the cromnibus isn't sufficiently combative, then the cromnibus will grind to a halt before its even leaves the station.

If you are only now emerging from your tryptophan-induced holiday haze and am wondering what the heck I'm even talking about, the "cromnibus" is a new thing in Washington, a mashup of "continuing resolution" (or "CR") and an "omnibus" budget bill. I debated the finer points of usage for the neologism last week, so check that out if you're still puzzled (but be warned, it could put you right back to sleep). In layman's terms, the cromnibus is a method Speaker John Boehner is proposing (to his fellow Republicans) which would fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year (through next September, in other words); except for the Department of Homeland Security, which would only be funded for roughly three months (or possibly even less time -- such details haven't been decided yet). The full funding part is the "omnibus" and the three-month short leash for Homeland Security is the "continuing resolution" part.

The reason for this mashup bill is to allow Republicans to vent a lot of steam over President Obama's recent action on immigration, but at the same time appear to be more reasonable than shutting the entire federal government down (again) in a tantrum. Boehner, at this point, would call that a win-win, since he has already promised (perhaps rashly) that Republicans won't be shutting down the government again any time soon. At the same time, Boehner knows the Tea Partiers are fighting mad over immigration, and may not even accept the cromnibus as sufficiently pugilistic. He's walking a very fine line, and the Tea Partiers are reportedly already marshalling their forces in an effort to defeat (or at least significantly toughen up) Boehner's proposed cromnibus bill.

The budget is due on December 11, which doesn't leave a lot of time for such factional maneuvering. Boehner is facing the same problem he's had all along with his caucus. The base is hopping mad and spoiling for the biggest, most visible fight with Obama they can possibly manage to stage -- but Boehner knows it's ultimately going to be a losing battle for Republicans because the bigger the fight, the more severe the consequences of failure, and the more blame Republicans will get for such failure. If the cromnibus stalls out in the House, to put this another way, it does not bode very well for Congress getting much of anything done for the next two years. Instead, it'll be shutdowns and fiscal cliffs, as far as the eye can see.

The whole point of the cromnibus was compromise -- compromise within the Republican Party. The Establishment Republicans could prove to the pundits that they could act (mostly) responsibly, while the Tea Partiers could vent their feelings without wrecking everything in sight. But you have to remember that "compromise" is a dirty word to Tea Partiers, no matter whether the compromise is internal or external. Their constant refrain is: "We will never have this amount of leverage over the president ever again, so why don't we use it now?" They never take into their calculations what the aftermath will be, but Boehner has to.

Boehner even offered the Tea Partiers what used to be sufficient to assuage such back-bench rage: before the cromnibus vote, he'd hold a protest vote on a bill denouncing Obama's "lawlessness" -- which will then go precisely nowhere in the Senate. This may not be enough for the Tea Partiers, though. Many other symbolic ideas are being kicked around the Republican House caucus (including the sophomoric: "Let's not invite Obama to give next year's State Of The Union speech -- that'll show him!") as further efforts to allow for the Tea Party's venting of rage, but it remains to be seen whether any of it will convince them. Perhaps Boehner could work such "airing of grievances" into a nice Festivus celebration? At this point, anything's possible.

John Boehner, a few weeks ago, repeatedly made a promise to the American people: Republicans would not shut down the federal government again -- at least not any time soon. This is the true leverage in this fight, because the Tea Partiers know how desperately Boehner wants to keep this promise, to show he can indeed lead his own caucus in the House. If the cromnibus bill passes, it will be a huge victory for Boehner (within his own party). But if the cromnibus fails to get enough votes to even pass the House, then you're going to hear a lot more people start referring to "Speaker Ted Cruz" as the real leader of the House Republican caucus, because the Tea Party tail will once again be in full control of the Republican Party dog.

If the Tea Partiers do kill the whole scheme, you'll also -- inevitably -- hear a whole lot of one very specific metaphor to describe the wreckage. Because the Tea Party will then indeed have "thrown Boehner under the cromnibus."


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