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“Bye Bye Boehner”: The Speaker’s Exit Has The Potential To Cause Chaos On Capitol Hill

Friday morning, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, announced his resignation and rocked the political world. The embattled speaker will step down at the end of October. Boehner’s latest move was abrupt and unexpected. Until this morning’s announcement, Washington was still collectively basking in the afterglow of Pope Francis’s historic visit to our city. Now, the speaker’s impending exit has everyone wondering what happens next.

The most immediate matter on Congress’ agenda is the continued funding for the operations of the federal government. Current funding is due to expire at the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30. Congress has not passed the funding bills for fiscal year 2016, so it must take some type of action next week to avoid shutting the government down. According to the Washington Post, the speaker’s resignation has cleared the way for this to happen, and Congress will pass a short-term funding deal that would keep the government running.

Until this morning, some House Republicans were threatening to vote against continued funding for the government unless the necessary legislative package also included provisions to defund Planned Parenthood. The division within his own party could have left Boehner without the votes needed to pass even a temporary funding bill, but his resignation seems to have appeased the conservatives who opposed him. Rep. John Fleming, R-La., told the Post, “The commitment has been made that there will be no shutdown.”

While the initial crisis of a potential government shutdown will be averted, Congress still has much more to do before the end of the year. These matters will become more complicated with the new hole in the House’s Republican leadership. Although the member next in line for the speakership seems to be House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the Washington Post noted that many House Republicans “believe he lacks the political and tactical gravitas to be a force in the House,” adding “The resignation sets up a bruising leadership race that will represent a long-delayed open clash between conservative and establishment Republicans.”

The crucial matters that Congress must decide on before the end of the year include a long-term funding package for the remainder of fiscal year 2016 and legislation to raise the debt ceiling, which is expected to become necessary in late October or November. The potential for a contentious leadership race, which pits conservatives against the rest of Republican conference, could make reaching consensus on these remaining matters difficult. Unless House Republicans are able to decide on a new leadership slate quickly, the rest of the year could be ugly on Capitol Hill.

Long-term, the effects Boehner’s retirement could be more far reaching. The speaker may not have been beloved by Democrats or by some of the members of his own party, but he was a force in the House and he won more than he lost. He had one of the most difficult jobs in Washington, but he worked every day to bring the factions of his House majority together so that Congress could continue with the work of the people. Most of the time, he succeeded.

It remains to be seen whether any of those who will run to replace him will be able to do the same. Recent calls from members of his own party for his removal had damaged the speaker somewhat, but he was still the most powerful, effective and thoughtful member of his party’s leadership in the House. With a relatively weak bench lined up to succeed him, Boehner’s resignation has the potential to create chaos now and in the years to come.


By: Cary Gibson, Government Relations Consultant, Prime Policy Group; Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, September 25, 2015

September 27, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“What Does The Orange Man Want?”: A Shutdown Is Almost Certain To Happen If Boehner Concludes It Will Be Good For Him Personally

As usual, it’s extremely useful to consult Stan Collender on how the fiscal end-game may work out this week or (if the can is kicked down the road) soon enough. His latest take discusses the roles that Ted Cruz, the House Freedom Caucus, and even House Democrats might play in making a government shutdown happen or not happen. But most interestingly, he notes there is one player in the saga who can most definitely cause a shutdown pretty much on his own if he so wishes: yes, that presumed shutdown opponent John Boehner:

This is the alternative that so far has gotten no attention, but there is a real possibility a government shutdown will be just what Boehner needs to survive as speaker and get a clean CR through the House.

The shutdown would appease the Freedom Caucus and defuse its effort to replace the speaker because Boehner would be doing what the caucus wants by refusing to bring a CR to the floor that maintains funds for Planned Parenthood. A few days or a week later when the appetite for a shutdown has changed, Boehner would be able to do what he’s done on several past budget-related bills: say they fought the good fight, that the fight will continue in other ways and get permission from the GOP caucus to work with Democrats to pass the CR.

A shutdown is almost certain to happen if Boehner concludes it will be good for him personally.

Don’t be shocked if that’s exactly how the deal goes down. Thinking of Boehner’s motives, I’m reminded of an ancient National Lampoon cartoon of a judge glaring angrily at an insolent-looking young man in the dock and saying: “You better show some respect, sonny. I had to kiss a lot of ass to get this job.” Boehner may not be as ready to give up his gavel as some observers think.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 24, 2015

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, Government Shut Down, John Boehner | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Another Wasted Day”: With Time Running Out, House GOP Passes Pointless Abortion Bills

In just 12 days, current funding for the federal government will run out, raising the very real prospect of another Republican shutdown. With so little time remaining, one is tempted to assume that lawmakers are scrambling to find a constructive solution.

Those assumptions would be wrong. MSNBC’s Irin Carmon reported on how the GOP-led House spent its morning.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed on Friday the Defund Planned Parenthood Act, 248-177. The bill strips the women’s health provider of its funding for contraception, pap smears, and testing for sexually-transmitted infections, unless it stops performing abortions.

 President Barack Obama has vowed to veto the bill, setting the stage for a possible government shutdown. Some congressional Republicans have vowed not to vote for any budget that includes funding for the organization.

The final roll call on the bill to defund Planned Parenthood is online here. Note, the vote largely fell along partisan lines, but not completely – three Republicans voted with the Democratic minority, while two Dems voted with the majority. The vote on the measure was immediately followed by another vote on a related bill, which would “impose criminal penalties on doctors who do not try to save a baby who ‘survives an abortion,’” which passed by a similar margin.

So, what happens now? I’m glad you asked.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House GOP leaders saw these votes as a way to placate their own far-right members. It was the leadership’s way of saying, in effect, “You want to defund Planned Parenthood? Fine. Here’s a bill on which you can express your intention to do exactly that.”

As a practical matter, it was a gambit to help conservative lawmakers get this out of their system before the real work begins.

The bills will now go to the Senate, where they are all but certain to die. In the unlikely event that the bills clear the upper chamber, they’d then go to the White House, where President Obama has already said he will veto them.

If it sounds as if the House, facing a looming shutdown deadline, wasted a day of work passing two anti-abortion bills that will inevitably fail, that’s because it did. House Republican leaders knew this all along, of course, but scheduled the votes anyway to make GOP members feel better.

The next step is the more serious one. Republican leaders in both chambers are going to ask their members to pass a temporary, stop-gap spending bill – called a “continuing resolution” – that maintains Planned Parenthood funding, but prevents a shutdown.

And quite a few GOP members are going to say, “No.” Today’s attempt at pacifying those House Republicans will not work, because they don’t want to say they voted to cut off funds for Planned Parenthood, they want to actually cut off funds for Planned Parenthood – and they’ll accept nothing short of their demands.

All of which leaves us with an unfortunate truth: today’s theatrics, intended to please everyone, satisfied no one, and brought us one step closer to a shutdown that appears increasingly unavoidable.

Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 18, 2015

September 19, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, Government Shut Down, Planned Parenthood | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Buckle Your Seatbelt”: Obama Reminds Congress About Looming Showdowns

Much of the political world’s attention has focused on the presidential campaign trail of late, and for good reason. Congress takes August off; President Obama has been on vacation; and his would-be successors have put on quite a show.

But as August nears its end, the White House remains quite cognizant of the challenges facing federal policymakers. Just yesterday, the president published a message on Twitter, explaining, “Amidst global volatility, Congress should protect the momentum of our growing economy (not kill it).” Obama added that the United States “must avoid” a government shutdown and austerity measures.

The message didn’t come out of the blue. Current funding for the federal government expires at the end of September, and though Republican leaders intended to make progress with talks over their summer break, there’s no indication that officials are any closer to a solution than they were in July. On the contrary, as was the case in 2013, some far-right members seem eager for a fight that would result in a shutdown.

And then, of course, there’s the debt ceiling. On the one hand, we received some good news on this front from the Congressional Budget Office this week. The Washington Post reported:

Congressional leaders may have more time to work out a deal this fall to increase the federal borrowing limit, after new projections from Congress’ scorekeeper showed tax revenues have been greater than expected this year. […]

In July, the Treasury Department estimated the government would hit its $18.1 trillion borrowing limit at the end of October. CBO, however, now projects the debt ceiling will not need to be increased until mid-November or early December, while noting there is a level of uncertainty when determining the exact date.

On the other hand, the delayed deadline won’t necessarily help. The Huffington Post reported:

[The debt-ceiling] deadline is nearing. And the mixture of an ongoing presidential campaign – which encourages lawmakers to play to their base – and the itching for more spending cuts from conservative groups suggests it won’t pass without drama. […]

 Asked if he expected debt-ceiling fireworks, longtime GOP consultant Craig Shirley replied: “Without a doubt.”

In fairness, it’s important to note that GOP leaders want no part of this – House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell haven’t expressed any interest whatsoever in a replay of the 2011 hostage fight in which Republicans threatened to crash the economy on purpose unless President Obama met the GOP’s demands.

But as we’ve seen many times, party leaders often feel as if they have no choice but to follow. And in this case, amid economic uncertainty and market volatility, far-right Republicans see conditions that give them a twisted sense of leverage.

The broader timing doesn’t help, either. The race for the GOP presidential nomination will be pretty intense by the time December rolls around, and it’s likely we’ll see most, if not all, of the Republican field pushing the party to be as radical as possible – each candidate will try to prove to right-wing activists that they’re “tougher” than their rivals.

Buckle your seatbelt.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, August 28, 2015

August 29, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Debt Crisis, Federal Budget, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Making Congress More Stupider”: Making Congress Dumber Has Not, In Fact, Made Government Smaller

You may recall Paul Glatris and Haley Sweetland Edwards’ cover article, “The Big Lobotomy,” from the June/July/August 2014 issue of the Washington Monthly. It documented how congressional Republicans had worked for decades to reduce Congress’ capacity for intelligent decision-making–while making it vastly more dependent on lobbyists and special interests–via reductions in appropriations for staff and committees and research initiatives.

The article clearly made an impression on Harry Stein and Ethan Gurwitz of the Center for American Progress, who cited it in reporting the latest self-lobotimizing effort in Congress in the FY 2016 appropriations process:

As Congress writes spending bills that attempt to implement the first year of its budget resolution, it is clear that the legislative branch intends to continue operating with one hand tied behind its back.

On June 12, 2015, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced the fiscal year 2016 legislative branch appropriations bill, which would cut funding for the legislative branch by 17 percent from inflation-adjusted FY 2010 levels. The House of Representatives has already passed its version of the FY 2016 legislative branch appropriations bill, which makes roughly the same overall funding cuts as the Senate bill. These cuts may seem like a good way to score cheap political points at a time when Congress is deeply unpopular, but in the long run, they only increase congressional dysfunction and make the federal government less efficient and responsive to the American people.

The fact remains that the legislative branch includes much more than just members of Congress. When members vote to slash legislative spending, they undermine the professional staff and independent agencies that make it possible for Congress to oversee federal programs and understand complex policy questions. As funding and staffing levels for these legislative branch institutions have declined, Congress has become increasingly dependent on privately funded lobbyists and outside policy experts.

As the CAP article notes, the cuts include those unique legislative branch entities the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office–both essential for understanding and reforming government spending.

The House’s FY 2016 legislative branch appropriations bill cuts the GAO budget by 15.4 percent from its FY 2010 inflation-adjusted level, while the Senate bill cuts GAO funding by 14.9 percent. If every $1 cut from the GAO equates to $15.20 of unexposed waste, fraud, and abuse, cuts of this magnitude could result in about $1.4 billion in missed opportunities for government savings, or between $7 billion and $8 billion based on the larger return-on-investment ratio of 80 to 1.

Even for conservatives who want a smaller federal government, Glastris and Edwards note that “making Congress dumber has not, in fact, made government smaller.” It just makes government less effective.

If you don’t really believe in any legitimate mission for the federal government beyond national defense, of course, this this is a distinction without a difference. But the rest of us are saddled with big, dumb government.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 16, 2015

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Federal Budget | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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