The forthcoming deals represent a big swing on Capitol Hill. | AP Photo
The party that’s acted as a bulwark against President Barack Obama’s agenda suddenly looks like it will quickly agree to some of his biggest demands.
House Republicans are poised to extend the Export-Import Bank’s charter well into next year, despite decrying the agency as an antiquated vestige of crony capitalism. They will fund the federal government until mid-December without much of a fight. And, most notably, they are rapidly moving toward giving the White House authority to arm and train Syrian rebels, despite deep misgivings about their ability to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and even deeper distrust of Obama’s foreign policy.
And this is all playing out in the final three days of session before Election Day — in a historically unproductive Congress.
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The forthcoming deals represent a big swing on Capitol Hill. Just a year ago, House Republicans were locked in a bitter battle with Obama over repealing his signature health care law, leading to a 16-day government shutdown that left both sides bruised.
Now — with less than 50 days until the midterms — Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise want nothing to do with Washington and its potential drag on Republicans’ sunny electoral fortunes.
The calculation, though, shows Boehner is an institutionalist, willing to support the president on the international stage when it comes to matters of war but careful to preserve his party’s political standing. And it shows that Boehner — and his new leadership structure — have found a way to navigate a tumultuous House Republican Conference with relative ease. That’s why, despite doubts, Republican leadership has snapped into action and is giving Obama the ability to go after ISIL in the Middle East.
But the legislation Boehner will try to pass Wednesday comes with serious strings for Obama. Republicans — chiefly Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon of California — added language to the proposal that specifically states they will not allow Obama to engage in full-scale combat operations using American troops. To do that, Obama will have to return to Congress for a separate authorization resolution.
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The way in which the GOP leadership team privately handled Obama’s request shows a new level of political maneuvering, balancing Obama’s wants with the constrictions of the House Republican Conference. The leaders held firm against White House demands that the Syria language be inserted directly into a continuing resolution to fund the government. It will instead be voted on as an amendment to the spending package. Boehner’s leadership team tamped down anger from chairmen, who thought the Obama administration’s closed-door classified briefings were disappointing. They inserted language into the bill to tighten the scope of the operations, force the Obama administration to report to Congress every three months about the progress of the operation.
And Boehner has held firm against conservative hard-liners inside and outside the Capitol who have tried to derail his nonconfrontational approach with the White House. For example, outside groups like Heritage Action have tried to force Boehner to remove the Export-Import Bank extension from the CR — advice he summarily has ignored.
Boehner’s approach has defused what had the chance of being a massively complex and messy September for Republicans, and his senior GOP colleagues in the House and Senate appreciate the speaker’s maneuvering.
“I think it’s a good idea for the House to pass the CR and whatever they need to do to get that done, I’m for,” Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn said in an interview Monday.