For all the media discussion about the wish of conservatives to shut down the government rather than fund Obamacare, most Republicans in Congress agree the current clash over government funding is unlikely to go anywhere close to falling off the "fiscal cliff."
"I don't think it is going to happen, not at all," Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio told Newsmax Wednesday as House Republicans met to strategize on meeting the Sept. 30 deadline to avoid a shutdown.
Portman, director of the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush, said Republicans in Congress should be focusing on "the 65 percent of the budget that is not touched: entitlements."
Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma agreed. In response to a question posed to him by Newsmax during a breakfast sponsored by the Concerned Veterans for America, Coburn said, "If we found $700 billion in savings from entitlements — Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — it would relieve pressure on the Pentagon and on non-mandatory spending. All the cuts they need are there to avoid a possible shutdown."
House Republicans emerged from their Wednesday conclave to announce they will support funding the government at current levels for three months and defunding the Affordable Care Act.
In addition, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor offered a plan to include a one-year debt ceiling increase — the present ceiling expires in mid-October — coupled with a one-year delay in the implementation of Obamacare.
Cantor's plan contains such conservative "baubles" as regulatory reform and federal approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, on which the administration has held off taking action for more than a year.
As if to gear up for a protracted battle, House leaders announced late Wednesday that they were canceling their planned recess next week and would convene Sept. 25. The first measure is likely to be voted on and passed by the House on Friday, while the Cantor alternative will likely be dealt with next week.
Both measures are likely to go nowhere beyond the Republican-controlled House.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, made it clear this week that the Democratic-controlled Senate never would consider a bill that does not include Obamacare funding.
But Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas now is attempting to round up 41 Republican senators to keep Senate Democrats from reaching the 60 votes needed to pass an amended continuing resolution that funds Obamacare.
However, even seasoned head-counters in the Senate sympathetic to what Cruz and his allies are trying to do say it would be an uphill climb.
"It should be noted that a government shutdown does not occur because 218 House Republicans vote for something,” one Capitol Hill staffer explained. "It happens in the absence of a continuing resolution passing both houses and being signed or not vetoed by a president."
The staffer continued: "Strictly speaking, the House has no unilateral power to shut down the government except by failing to pass a continuing resolution that funds the government. So long as it does that, then it should be said to be the president and/or Senate who elects to shut down the government."
"Strictly speaking,” that is correct. But — as President Bill Clinton demonstrated in the clash with the GOP-controlled Congress that led to a brief shutdown in 1996 — the media are likely to place the blame on Congress. In 2013, that blame is likely to fall on the Republican-controlled House.
That is why few House Republicans want to go down that road.
"I can't see us forcing a government shutdown," Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana told Newsmax. "But I think we can defund Obamacare."
Republican Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee told Newsmax the House Republican Conference will have some "real debate" on how to approach the debt ceiling, adding, "I think the sentiments are to make sure the government is run better, not close it down."
Coburn, a freshman during the 1996 shutdown, said, "Not many others are still here who experienced this and recall what the public was saying about a shutdown. Most don't have the spine to take it."
One of the most thoughtful and possibly prophetic commentaries on "to shut down or not" came from one of the most sage conservative economic thinkers.
Following a talk in Washington on Wednesday, Arthur Laffer — a founding father of modern supply-side economics — told Newsmax, "Republicans have everything going for them now. They're going to retain control of the House and probably win the Senate next year the way things are going. So why should they even consider threatening a government shutdown in 2013?
Now, once they control Congress in '15," he said, "that could be another story."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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