Every football coach and quarterback has a handful of reliable, time-tested plays they call when they're in a bind and their team is in desperate need of yardage.
No fancy gadget plays. No flea flickers, double reverses or halfback passes.
Just the basics.
And run off-tackle. A post play. A sweep.
Coaches and quarterbacks knows what works for their team and what doesn't.
And so does House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
The House Republican offense has stalled of late. Few third-down conversions. No sustained scoring drives. No electrifying long runs from scrimmage. It's not so much that Democrats are playing stellar defense. It's because Boehner has had trouble advancing the ball with Republican rank-and-file members.
That was evident in September. In a stunner, the House defeated a stopgap spending bill 230-195 to keep the government operating past October 1. Forty-eight House Republicans voted no. Congress must approve all 12 appropriations bills to keep the government running if these measures don't become law by the end of September. The government shuts down if they don't.
The scandal involving bankrupt solar energy firm Solyndra truly began percolating in September. Republicans were irate that the Obama Administration approved a $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra in 2009. Solyndra went belly-up at the end of summer.
After the sharp rebuke on the interim bill to fund the government and avoid a shutdown, Boehner desperately needed a first down. He looked no further than the morning headlines as the Solyndra issue resonated with conservatives who weren't keen on green energy to start with. Moreover, the same conservatives were practically apoplectic that the Obama Administration wasted taxpayer dollars on a failed firm. Boehner also knew that one of the best tools in his political toolbox was picking a fight with the president, thus stoking the Republican base.
A few days later, a similar stopgap spending bill returned to the House floor. But this time, it was festooned with what's called a "sweetener," in Capitol Hill parlance.
"Splenda" may sweeten food products. But "Solyndra" was the sweetener Boehner added to this spending bill. The Republicans concocted a legislative add-on for the bill that would yank $100 million from the Department of Energy to fund Solyndra and other "green" initiatives.
Boehner's signal calling was spot on.
The House voted 219-203 to fund the government through mid-November. And the Solyndra sweetener appeared to do the trick to reverse the previous vote which threatened a government shutdown.
So last week, Boehner again faced third and long. Democrats appeared to be winning the public over with their calls to renew the payroll tax holiday set to expire at the end of the year. If Congress failed to act, some 160 million Americans could see their tax bills soar by $1,000 next year. Many rank-and-file House Republicans were recalcitrant to approve an extension. Some fretted that re-upping the tax cut could imperil the Social Security Trust fund. The government funds Social Security by taxing payrolls. Many GOPers wanted a "pay-for" to cover the diminished revenue created by the payroll tax break.
Boehner needed to call the right play. But he also needed to switch sports, from football to Judo.
In Judo, competitors are taught to use their opponents' strength and size against them. This is done by getting an opponent off balance and then executing a throw or a takedown.
On the legislative Judo mat, President Obama and Congressional Democrats had quite a chokehold on Republicans when it came to the payroll tax. This required agility from Boehner to incorporate both the right play call and Judo maneuver.
In early November, the president decided to delay the approval of the Keystone pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Mr. Obama met with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper Wednesday. In a statement, Boehner nudged the president to tell Harper he would approve the pipeline. President Obama did not. Instead the president declared that it was his job "to make sure that a process is followed that examines all the options" regarding the pipeline.
It didn't take Peyton Manning to read this defensive scheme. Quarterback Boehner stepped to the line of scrimmage and called an audible.
House Republicans would try to move a payroll tax extension. But the new legislation would include a provision requiring the construction of the Keystone pipeline.
Boehner appeared to have called the right play for Republicans. But like a Judo master, Boehner had also turned President Obama's position against him, pointing out that construction of the pipeline would mean thousands of jobs.
Boehner unveiled the Keystone plan during a closed door meeting of the House Republican Conference. The decision to tack Keystone onto the payroll tax bill excited Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) who chairs the Republican Study Committee, a bloc of the most-conservative GOP members in the House.
"The fact that the president doesn't like it makes me like it even more," Jordan gleamed.
If constructed, the pipeline would snake from northeastern Alberta into Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) is one of the most-ardent backers of the pipeline. He says Boehner's decision to glue the Keystone issue to the payroll tax provision sold his colleagues.
"I had one or two of my colleagues come up to me and say 'Hey, I was on the bubble, but if this is in there, we need this and I'll vote for it,'" Terry said.
But there's a problem. There are doubts such a plan could make it through the Senate. Plus, President Obama says he'll reject any payroll tax bill with Keystone affixed.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) opposes the bill on other grounds. However, he explains the potential danger of adding the Keystone language to this package.
"People are saying they can swallow this, but don't back down," Flake said. "If the Senate for example won't go along with the Keystone provision or some of the other pay-fors or offsets, then all bets are off."
So now Boehner has to call another play.
The plan now is for the House to pass the new payroll tax bill on Tuesday and approve a massive spending bill to fund the government through next fall on Wednesday or Thursday. If the House does that, it could conceivably dump all of this in the Senate's lap with a "take it or leave it approach."
One way to do this would be for the House to "jam" the Senate and leave town for the holiday.
"I think the likelihood of being jammed is high," said Terry.
But the House could "artfully" toss this to the Senate, giving the appearance that it's left town for the year with no recourse.
The trick is if the House adjourns for the year "sine die" (pronounced SIGH-nee DY, for those who don't speak Latin). A "sine die" adjournment signals the House is done until January. If the House goes out sine die, Boehner has completely stuck it to the Senate and is daring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to kill the House bill and challenging President Obama to veto it.
The GOP base would love this and Boehner would generate significant goodwill for himself when the well ran dry.
But, Boehner could very well cut the House free later next week...but not adjourn sine die. That gets everyone home for a bit to do holiday shopping, trim the tree and visit the grandkids. It would appear as though the House had left town, but it really hasn't. That way if there is any compromise to be made, it's up to Reid and the president. Then GOP leaders could conceivably recall the House for a day or so just before Christmas to put the final touches on everything.
This accomplishes two things: gets House members home for a chunk of December and diminishes the chances of everyone hanging in Washington for two weeks right up until Christmas.
That said, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) put members on notice last week that lawmakers should be prepared to stay here until all business is done for the year.
That's why it's entirely possible that Congress could be in session all the way up until Christmas.
All of this sets up a very interesting final three weeks of the year. And everyone's watching to see what plays Boehner calls when he lines up under center.