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“Loud Kazoos And Angry Threats”: House GOP Clown Car Crashes Again As Fiscal Deal Passes

Observing the Congressional Republicans repeatedly stumble in and out of their caucus clown car, blowing loud kazoos and muttering angry threats, should be painful, embarrassing, and highly instructive to any American voter with the patience to watch.  When their latest performance concluded late Tuesday night with a 257 to 187 vote passing the stopgap fiscal deal negotiated by the Senate and the White House, an unavoidable question lingered: What is wrong with those people?

The simple explanation is that the House of Representatives has increasingly been dominated over the past two decades by a coterie of tantrum-prone extremists, who lack the probity and steadiness required for democratic self-government. Their diminished capacity is reflected in the low quality of leadership they have chosen during this long twilight, from Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay to John Boehner and Eric Cantor, even as their politics have grown more and more extreme.

Under the stress of their incoherence, the Republican caucus is unable to escape one humiliating mess after another. The damage they routinely inflict on the country’s economy and future is reaching incalculable levels – and is almost certain to grow worse when they again hold the debt ceiling hostage next month.

By the end of the current episode – which is only an interlude rather than a true resolution – the top Republicans in the House had split, with Boehner casting a rare vote in favor, and House Budget Committee chair and former vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan (R-WI) voting yes, along with 84 fellow Republicans and almost all of the House Democrats, while House Majority Leader and would-be Speaker Eric Cantor (R-VA) voted no. On the floor, House Ways and Means chair Dave Camp (R-MI) tried to claim that this bill is “the largest tax cut in history,” although he might have difficulty explaining why more than 150 Republicans voted against it.

The Republicans’ incompetence in government is inextricably connected with their ideological extremism, as the latest events demonstrate. Hogtied by the craziness of the ultra-right Tea Party faction, the House GOP leadership cannot even cooperate with other Republicans in the Senate – who overwhelmingly voted for the “cliff” deal negotiated with Vice President Joe Biden – let alone conduct serious discussions with the White House.

Having refused to support the leadership’s “Plan B” scheme to raise taxes only on households making $1 million or more annually – despite confident claims by Boehner and Cantor that they had counted the necessary votes — the Republican caucus made both themselves and their leaders look ridiculous. It was a dreadful right-wing plan, but still much too liberal for too many of them. Tacitly acknowledging that he could no longer manage his restless wingnuts, Boehner insisted that the Senate and White House should come up with an emergency measure on their own.

Yet when the Senate leadership, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, offered a bill negotiated with Vice President Joe Biden — just as Boehner had urged — the House Republicans descended into crisis. Their leaders couldn’t endorse the bill, fearing that the GOP caucus crazies would defenestrate them. But they could hardly employ their usual partisan tactics to keep the bill off the House floor, after the Senate had passed it by a vote of 89-8, with only five Republican defections. They might have noticed as well their declining numbers in every public poll, with the latest Republican-leaning Rasmussen survey showing a Democratic lead in the generic congressional contest of 11 points and climbing.

Astonishingly, they nevertheless wasted several hours debating whether to amend the bill with new spending cuts and then send it back to the Senate, where leaders of both parties would have surely and justly rejected such tardy handiwork. Consistent only in their ineptitude, the House Republicans were reportedly unable to agree among themselves on exactly how to change the bill, in any case.

Finally, they folded – or at least their leaders did – and proclaimed that they were girding themselves for the battles to come over the budget and the debt ceiling, which have now been postponed for another month or so.

The deal itself is not a bad one, from the Democratic perspective, raising significant new revenues from the wealthiest taxpayers and excluding any “grand bargain” (or raw deal) to weaken Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid. Its specific provisions are still far too generous to the highest-income taxpayers and will not, in the long run, raise enough revenue to sustain decent government, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, and prepare for the future.

The struggle over what government should do and how to pay for its functions continues, almost immediately. And perhaps soon the president and his party will explain, without hesitation, what this brief tumble over the “cliff” has shown us, and what we may hope they have finally learned: That there is no negotiating partner among the House Republicans, who must be defeated if progress is to be possible.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, January 2, 2013

January 2, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Fiscal Cliff | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Beating Back The Insurgency”: House Passes Fiscal Deal, Sends Agreement To White House

Seven hours ago, House Republicans were fired up and ready to kill the bipartisan fiscal agreement that the Senate passed easily last night. Tonight, however, the House passed the Senate deal relatively easily, 257 to 167.

House Speaker John Boehner was, as expected, forced to ignore the arbitrary, so-called “Hastert Rule,” and bring the bill to the floor despite the opposition of most of the majority caucus. By the time the gavel fell, however, it was far more than a sliver of House GOP members who bit the bullet and grudgingly supported the compromise — 85 Republicans voted for the bill tonight, while 151 voted against it.

Of particular interest was the division among GOP leaders. Boehner and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan voted for the Senate compromise, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy voted against it.

The rumors of sharp fissures among Republican leaders are true, and Boehner and Cantor are obviously not on the same page. It’s a dynamic that’s well worth watching as the new Congress gets underway, and the House GOP leadership tries to govern with an even smaller caucus.

Regardless, while Boehner surely wished he enjoyed more support from his own members, Cantor does not end the evening looking especially strong — he briefly led the insurgency against the fiscal agreement this afternoon, and ignored the wishes of his own Speaker, but the effort to derail the deal ended up failing badly.

President Obama, who will sign the completed agreement quite soon, is scheduled to speak from the White House briefing room any minute now.

But as the dust settles, it’s worth considering how the day unfolded in the House. The GOP caucus gathered for a preliminary, midday meeting at which Republicans insisted on “amending” the bipartisan bill — making it far more favorable to the right — and then sending it back to the Senate with an ultimatum: pass the House version or else.

But by the time House Republicans gathered for a rare evening meeting, the push behind the effort had fizzled, and the earlier threats started to look like empty bluster. So, what happened? A few things, actually.


First, GOP members realized that amending the Senate package would necessarily unravel the entire process, and there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind who would receive — and deserve — the blame for higher taxes and sweeping austerity measures that would do real harm to the economy: House Republicans.

Second, there was limited support for an amended bill, anyway. Remember, Boehner’s “Plan B,” which died an ignominious death just two weeks ago, set the higher marginal income tax threshold at a $1 million and included all kinds of right-wing goodies intended to secure Republican support. It failed miserably. The amended Senate bill would have set the threshold at $450,000 and it would have generated zero Democratic votes. It quickly became apparent that the proposal couldn’t pass, and wasn’t worth pursuing.

The clock only made matters worse — GOP leaders, having already missed the New Year’s Eve deadline, maintained they wanted to wrap this up well in advance of financial markets opening in the morning.

And that left the House with a choice: either pass or kill the deal. With the help of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her disciplined caucus, the chamber chose the former.

One other thought to keep in mind as members head to the cameras tonight: House Republicans had no say in shaping this deal, but that was by design. I saw Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) complain this afternoon that he thinks the Senate acted like a “dictatorship” that wants to rule over the House.

Let’s not forget recent history — which is to say, the history from last week. The White House worked with the Speaker and his office on a compromise, and Boehner abandoned the talks. A few days later, Boehner’s caucus abandoned him, leaving a scenario in which the entire chamber was lost and directionless.

And it was at that point, the Speaker announced, “Now it is up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff.” In other words, the House GOP leadership gave up and ceded power to the Senate and the White House.

House Republicans weren’t really in a position to wait until Jan. 1 and then decide it had changed its mind about who deserved to have a hand in crafting a bipartisan agreement. The Senate didn’t play the role of a “dictatorship”; it simply did the work the House was unable and unwilling to do.

And now, the process is over, and the bill heads to the White House for the president’s signature. We’ll have plenty more coverage in the morning.

BY: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 1, 2012

January 2, 2013 Posted by | Fiscal Cliff | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“What’s A Speaker To Do”: Will The John Boehner-Eric Cantor Rift Blow Up The Fiscal Cliff Deal?

Here is how it was supposed to go –

After failing to get a fiscal cliff deal with the President through his own efforts, Speaker John Boehner turned the entire mess over to the Senate, promising that if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could put together a deal with the White House and Senate Democrats that could nail down a decisive amount of support from both parties, he would put such a bill to a vote before the entire House of Representatives.

With a vote of 89-8 in the Senate, clearly a decisive, non-partisan agreement was achieved meaning the bill produced would get an up or down vote on the floor of the House.

However, in the Speaker’s latest in a long line of political miscalculations, Boehner didn’t figure on Eric Cantor choosing this moment to stab him in the back.

Despite Boehner’s promise, it now appears that the GOP House caucus—led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor—will force Boehner to break his promise by demanding that any bill put to a full vote of the House of Representatives include amendments to the Senate passed legislation. Should such an amended version pass, the bill would be sent back to the Senate where the amended legislation would have to be adopted by noon on Thursday. After that time, this Congress will have come to an end and all outstanding bills will die.

Not only would it be difficult to reassemble all of the Senators in time to deal with this—as they’ve all scattered to the winds in the belief that their work was done—anyone who knows Majority Leader Harry Reid knows that there is little chance that he would accede to the efforts of the House GOP to scuttle his deal.

How did Boehner not see this coming? Where is all that political acumen one is supposed to have when rising to the level of the Speaker of the House?

This is the same John Boehner who, just days ago, could have closed a deal on “Plan A”—a deal with the President that would have placed the threshold for tax increases at $400,000 (just $50,000 less than what was negotiated by Senate Minority Leader McConnell), delivered some $800 billion in spending cuts and very likely could have gotten into the package the chained CPI that would have lowered Social Security benefits, accomplishing a big entitlement win for Republicans.

Instead of just saying yes, Boehner elected to move forward with his Plan B option, calling for a tax increase on only those who earn in excess of one million dollars a year. The Speaker ended up with a big, fat goose egg when he was unable to gain the support of a majority of House Republicans to bring the measure to a full vote.

As a result of his political fumbling, rather than getting a “Plan A” that would have delivered dramatically more of what the Speaker wanted than what the Senate compromise ultimately provided, Boehner now finds himself fighting Rep. Cantor—ostensibly Boehner’s “number two”—just to be permitted to make good on his promise to bring the Senate version to the floor for an up or down vote—and it appears, at this point, that the Speaker is losing that fight.

So, what is a Speaker to do?

Assuming that the objection to the Senate bill in the GOP caucus is such that there are enough votes to require Boehner to bring the amended version to the floor (a majority of his conference if Boehner is to honor the Hassert Rule requiring that he only take bills to the floor that a “majority of the majority” support) , and knowing that the amended version would likely mean killing the deal and casting the country over the fiscal cliff, Boehner could seek enough of his own party members to join with Democrats in voting against the amended version, effectively stymying his own party’s efforts to pass an amended version of the bill.

Were such a measure to go down to defeat, Boehner could then put the original Senate bill to a vote and likely push it through with Democrats and Republicans voting in favor.

Should Boehner do this, it could very well come at the price of his Speakership which, given his poor display of political savvy these past few weeks, might be an appropriate result.

What is the moral to this story?

The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives is supposed to be able to see the political ramifications of his or her actions and is expected to be able to explain these ramifications to members of his caucus who are less adept at seeing the consequences of their own actions—and we all know who I’m talking about.

Boehner’s failure to see what was coming and his total inability to make sure that the extremist wing of his GOP conference understood what was likely to happen, is an exercise in political malpractice. He should have taken the Plan A deal when he had the chance.

If the Senate bill is rejected by the House Republican caucus, and the cliff deal is allowed to die, you can forget all that leverage the Republicans expect to have when they attempt to hold the nation hostage in February in the next debt ceiling fight in the effort to get significant spending cuts.

In fact, it is highly likely you can forget the Republican party altogether when it comes to the United States Congress as it is difficult to believe that Americans will forget what the GOP put them through, even if the cliff is ultimately resolved in a way that protects most Americans from tax hikes.

If the House GOP screws up this compromise, I certainly wouldn’t want to have to run as a Republican in 2014.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, January 1, 2013

 

January 2, 2013 Posted by | Fiscal Cliff | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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