Boehner resigns, pushing off shutdown, for now

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, discusses his resignation at a news conference in the Capitol on Friday. (Mary F. Calvert/Reuters)

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The shock resignation of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, widely regarded as the glue holding together a fractured GOP Congress, will likely improve the chances of a short-term funding bill passing before Oct. 1, but some conservatives claim that the move will do little to sway Republicans from employing the tactic down the road.

“Boehner’s decision to resign will have a marginal impact on whether or not there will be a prolonged government shutdown,” said Peter Roff, senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom. “It’s important to note that there’s a ‘shutdown caucus’ in the House that thinks a shutdown is the solution to everything. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

The threat of this latest shutdown began after the publication of sting videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the donation of body parts from aborted fetuses, and House Republicans have so far refused to pass any funding bill that provided cash for the organization. The strategy is not a new one: The government has shut down 17 times since 1976, for a cumulative total of 110 days. Most recently, in October 2013, GOP legislators attached policy riders gutting the Affordable Care Act to funding bills, causing a lapse in appropriations that shut down the government and furloughed hundreds of thousands of government employees.

Republican analysts say that Boehner’s resignation makes it more likely that a continuing resolution that would prevent a shutdown next week will pass — because the more conservative and libertarian elements in the party that support a shutdown will be mollified by the speaker’s departure, which they see as a victory.

But there are fears that the absence of one of the party’s figureheads and chief fundraisers will damage GOP coherence and increase the chances of a shutdown in the future.

“Boehner holds everyone together — he is not a member of any of the camps,” Roff said. “There’s an attitude of ‘the next to worst thing is that he stays; the worst thing is that he goes.’ This is not a good thing.”

But Chris Edwards, editor of the libertarian Cato Institute’s downsizinggovernment.org and former senior economist on the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, said Boehner “was not a leader to Republicans — he was unwilling to dig in his heels and confront Obama.”

“With Boehner staying until October, it will reduce the chance of a shutdown right now,” Edwards said. “But with a new leader, there is more likely to be one in the future.”

This sentiment is supported by right-wing organizations like Heritage Action, whose CEO Michael A. Needham Friday released a statement celebrating Boehner’s departure.

“Americans deserve a Congress that fights for opportunity for all and favoritism to none. Too often, Speaker Boehner has stood in the way,” Needham wrote. “Now is the time for a principled, conservative leader to emerge.”

Republicans who favor a more moderate track, though, condemn a shutdown as a “nonstarter” strategy, preferring a more nuanced approach to budget cutting and policymaking.

“Republicans should be using this to push for as much as they can get, rather than saying, ‘we want x,’ and then just throwing up their hands and walking away if they don’t get it,” said Roff. “It’s like dropping out of a baseball game and then complaining that you didn’t get a home run.”

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