Last week, the Senate held two test votes—one on H.R. 1 and one on a Democratic alternative. We knew that neither one would have the votes to pass, but we held the votes anyway, and sure enough, they both went down.


The purpose of those votes was to make it clear that both sides’ opening bids in this debate were non-starters, and thus pave the way for a serious, good-faith compromise.

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But unfortunately, an intense, ideological tail continues to wag the dog over in the House of Representatives.

Speaker BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA time for war, a time for peace — and always a time to defend America Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Soleimani killing deepens distrust between Trump, Democrats MORE had hoped that after H.R. 1 failed in the Senate, it would convince his conservatives of the need to compromise. Instead, those conservatives have only dug in further.

Not only will they will not budge off of $61 billion in extreme cuts on the long-term measure and special-interest add-ons, but they also won’t support any more stopgaps to avert a shutdown. Speaker Boehner is now caught between a shutdown and a hard place.

The Speaker has said all along that he wants to avoid a shutdown at all costs, and I believe him. He is a good man. The problem is, a large percentage of those in his party don’t feel the same way.

They think “compromise” is a dirty word. They think taking any steps to avert a shutdown would mean being the first to blink.

Don’t take my word for it. Here is what some in the other chamber are saying:

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Conservative House member Mike Pence said that passing a three-week bill to keep the government running “would only delay a confrontation that must come. I say, ‘Let it come now. It's time to take a stand.’

Michelle Bachmann said “If a member votes for the continuing resolution, that vote effectively says, I am choosing not to fight.” 

Outside forces on the far right are also cheerleading a shutdown. Tea Party Nation, for example, has called on Republicans to oppose any more budget measures unless they repeal healthcare and do away with family planning.

The Tea Party element in the House is digging in its heels. That is putting the Speaker in a bind. His need to avoid a shutdown is in conflict with his political desire to keep his Tea Party base happy.

I don’t envy the position the Speaker is in, but he is going to have to make a choice one way or the other. There are two choices, but only one of them is responsible.

The Republican leadership can cater to the Tea Party element and, as Mike Pence has suggested, “pick a fight” that will inevitably cause a shutdown on April 8.

Or the leadership can abandon the Tea Party in these negotiations and forge a consensus among more moderate Republicans and a group of Democrats.

I think we all know what the right answer is.

Speaker Boehner wouldn’t have been able to pass this short-term measure without Democratic votes, and he won’t be able to pass a long-term one without Democratic votes either.

It’s clear that there is no path to compromise that goes through the Tea Party. We urge Speaker Boehner to push ahead without them. We are ready to work with him if he is willing to buck the extreme element of his party.

Throughout this debate, Democrats have repeatedly shown a willingness to negotiate, a willingness to meet Republicans in the middle.

And yet the rank-and-file of the House GOP has been utterly unrelenting. They've wrapped their arms around the discredited, reckless approach advanced by H.R. 1, and they won't let go.

Worse, the last few days have taught us that spending cuts alone will not bring a compromise.

The new demand from the far right is that we go along with all their extraneous riders. They don't belong on a budget bill, but they were shoehorned onto H.R. 1 anyhow. Now the hard-liners in the House want them in any deal. These measures are like a heavy anchor bogging down the budget.

In recent days, a number of right-wing interest groups like the Family Research Council began encouraging Republicans to vote against any budget measure that doesn't contain these controversial policy measures. This is why a compromise has been so hard to come by on the budget. It's because Republicans want more than spending cuts; they want to impose their entire social agenda on the back of a must-pass budget.

Those on the right are entitled to their policy positions, but there is a time and a place to debate these issues and Mr. President, this ain't it.

If this debate were only about spending cuts, we could probably come to an agreement before too long. But we will have a hard time coming to an agreement if those on the right treat the budget as an opportunity to enact a far-ranging social agenda.

The Tea Party lawmakers are putting a drag on the progress on these budget talks.

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Many Republicans in the House recognize the unreasonableness of the hardliners.

Kevin McCarthy, the Majority Whip, was reported to have gotten into a “tense exchange” with Pence, one of the lead defectors. Republican Mike Simpson acknowledged it was “unexpected” to have so many defections yesterday. Steve LaTourette of Ohio said passing the three-week stopgap was “exactly what people expect us to do — find cuts and continue to talk.” Michael Grimm from my home state of New York said the Tea Party lawmakers were making “a big mistake.”

This shows there are enough reachable conservatives in the House, who, along with a group of Democrats, can provide Speaker Boehner with a way around the Tea Party.

In order to avoid a dead end on these budget talks, he should abandon the Tea Party and work to find a bipartisan consensus. It’s the only way out of this bind.