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“Republicans Take The Less Risky Path”: The Budget Passes! Has The GOP Congress Come To Its Senses?

The news that the House passed a budget that will fund the government through next fall, and the Senate quickly followed suit, is in and of itself a big deal. But the fact that the bill passed so easily — on a vote of 316-113 in the House, with Republicans voting in favor of it by a margin of 150-95 — may be the really interesting story here.

Is the GOP Congress not what we thought it was? Is the way liberal commentators (myself included) have characterized the Republican caucus in the House over the last couple of years, as a group dominated by extremists who are willing to burn down everything in their path, an oversimplification?

It just may be. But let’s look at some competing explanations for why this budget passed so easily:

Paul Ryan is a genius. Perhaps this is all Paul Ryan’s doing, so deftly did he work his members to corral support for this bill. There’s something to that — there were specific steps he took to make all his members feel like they had a voice in the process, and even some of the most conservative members have praised his openness to their input.

But there are a couple of reasons to think that this explanation is incomplete at best. First, it suggests that the crises and intra-Republican battles of the last few years occurred only because John Boehner was inept at managing the more restive parts of his caucus. While no one is going to suggest that Boehner was some kind of legislative sensei, the members who forced those crises weren’t doing it just because they disliked Boehner. They were acting out of their own ideological and electoral interests, many because they saw their political fortunes in their own districts tied to the idea that they would be uncompromising in fighting both Barack Obama and their party’s leadership.

Second, this bill really was a compromise. It doesn’t defund Planned Parenthood, it doesn’t reduce the size of government, and it gives Democrats plenty of other things they wanted as well. Republicans in the House weren’t going to go along with it for no reason other than the fact that they got to sit down with the new Speaker and voice their complaints. So while they may feel better about Ryan than they did about Boehner, that can’t be the whole story.

They realized that making a fuss only raises expectations. The key dynamic in Republican politics these days comes from voter dissatisfaction with the party’s leaders, who have repeatedly promised to fight President Obama to their dying breath but has been unable to deliver on any of their substantive goals, like repealing the Affordable Care Act. Smarter Republican members may realize that shutdown crises only serve to increase this dissatisfaction, because they inevitably end in defeat for the conservatives. Even the angriest tea partier could eventually face a primary challenger who points out that the congressman didn’t succeed in stopping the march of socialism, no matter how often he shook his fist at his party’s leadership. So the less risky path might be to let the bill pass, keep the government running, and hope that nobody takes much notice of it.

There’s a silent (or at least relatively quiet) majority of Republicans in the House. Let’s not forget that 95 Republicans did vote against the bill, including the most conservative ones. In the past, the conservatives (or the tea partiers, or the Freedom Caucus, or however you want to refer to them) were only able to create crises and shutdowns because they were able to bring slightly less crazy members along with them. So it isn’t that the extreme conservatives have gotten any less extreme; what made the difference this time is that the merely very conservative members were no longer willing to set fire to the Capitol.

Those members in the ideological middle of the caucus (which, to be clear, is a very conservative place) can sound like tea partiers when the situation demands, but they are also realistic enough to know that some battles aren’t worth fighting. They certainly feel pressure from their right, but they may have learned from the mistakes of the past. And right now, as we move into 2016, the calculation of which risks are worth taking has changed. Which leads us to the final explanation:

The presidential race has changed everything. As I’ve been arguing since the last midterm election, congressional Republicans didn’t really need to “show they can govern.” What they needed to do was avoid screwing things up for their eventual 2016 presidential nominee. The reason is simple: if a Republican wins the White House next year, 2017 will see a bacchanal of conservative legislating that will leave no Republican desire unfulfilled. Trying to extract a few concessions from Barack Obama today is spectacularly foolish if it makes Republicans look bad and thereby reduces the chances of electing a Republican president by even the tiniest amount. The best strategy for congressional Republicans is to do no harm, and be patient.

With the presidential primary campaign now in full swing, that reality may be hitting home for more and more members of Congress. So even the most conservatives ones aren’t going to try to force a shutdown. Instead, they’ll vote against the budget bill, and when a reporter asks they’ll say, yes, of course it’s a surrender to Obama and a betrayal of conservative values, blah blah blah. But in their hearts, they probably realize that at this particular moment, passing the budget is the smart move.

So which one of these explanations is the right one? The answer may be different for different members, but I’m pretty sure they all played a role.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 18, 2015

December 21, 2015 Posted by | Budget, GOP Establishment, House Freedom Caucus, Senate | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Challenge Of Being Paul Ryan”: He’s Been Anointed As A Savior, And Saviors Often Meet A Bad End

Paul Ryan had excellent reasons for not wanting to be speaker of the House. He’s a smart guy and knows that the Republican caucus he is about to lead is nearly ungovernable. He’s been anointed as a savior, and saviors often meet a bad end.

Moreover, the Wisconsin native (and ardent Packers fan) is still very much a work in progress. He was happy to stay away from the center stage as he mapped out the next steps of his life and the direction of his thinking. As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he could pick his fights and choose the issues he wanted to highlight. As speaker, the issues will often pick him and he may well have to wage battles he might prefer to avoid.

Ryan has always wanted to be several things at the same time, and they have not been easy to keep in balance.

On the one hand, he is, from my experience, a genuinely nice and warm person who wants to be seen as thoughtful, wonkish and willing to delve deeply into policy details. He’s a religious man who knows that his faith teaches the imperative of compassion and the urgency of justice. He has repeatedly given speeches declaring his determination to alleviate poverty.

But he is also an ideologue — one reason the right-wingers in the House could accept him as speaker. He has said that the unforgiving libertarianism of Ayn Rand — whose books include one called “The Virtue of Selfishness” — inspired him to enter politics. In a speech before the Heritage Foundation in 2011, he divided the world between “takers” and “makers” and spoke of government programs as creating “a hammock that ends up lulling people into lives of dependency and complacency.” I doubt that poor people think they spend their lives swaying gently between the trees.

The budgets he has proposed over the years are his signature. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal group that is very careful about its numbers, repeatedly found that roughly two-thirds of the cuts in Ryan’s budgets came from programs for low- and moderate-income people. Take that, you takers!

Had Ryan not been pushed toward the speakership, he would have more room to refine his views and would not face constant pressure to appease the right. That pressure led him to criticize the process that outgoing Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) used to save Ryan from having to deal with impossible problems around the budget and the debt ceiling. Being Paul Ryan has just gotten even harder.

But let’s give Ryan a brief respite by focusing on his virtues. When he insisted that he would not take the speaker’s job unless he could protect his “family time,” he showed what kind of person he is and made a statement that could transform the debate about work and family.

I personally identify with Ryan because we were both 16 when our dads died and, like him, I have three kids. Time with my family has been a treasure for me, too. Good for Ryan for placing his family at the heart of his life.

Yet his statement brought him immediate and sharp criticism because he had voted against mandatory paid family leave. Rather than resenting his critics, he should take them very seriously by admitting that he enjoys a degree of bargaining power that so many Americans lack. And he should not pretend that the “flex time” proposals he has endorsed are the answer. They would merely undermine employees’ existing rights to overtime.

Ryan might take a look at a 2006 essay in the Weekly Standard by Yuval Levin, a conservative thinker I am sure he admires, acknowledging the tension between the market and the family. Levin noted that the market “values risk-taking and creative destruction that can be very bad for family life” and that “the libertarian and the traditionalist are not natural allies.”

Sometimes, despite what Ayn Rand says, government action is essential to preserving individual rights in the marketplace and protecting the integrity of family life. Many families are under severe economic pressures. There are times when only government is in a position to relieve them, often through the programs Ryan would cut.

Thus a hope: Ryan could use the first days of his speakership to signal his intention of bridging at least some of the great ideological gaps in our country. A man who so honorably values his own family could start by changing his mind on family leave.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 28, 2015

October 31, 2015 Posted by | House Freedom Caucus, Ideologues, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Continuing The Charade”: Meet Paul Ryan, Media Darling”; He’s Sensible, Serious, And Totally Made-Up

The beatification of right-wing Republican Paul Ryan has become an almost annual ritual among the punditocracy. This bizarre tradition began when Ryan released his first budget as chair of the House Budget Committee in 2011, and repeated itself a year later when he rereleased it. It occurred a third time when Mitt Romney—under powerful punditocracy pressure—picked Ryan as his running mate for the 2012 presidential campaign. Now we are in the midst of yet another episode in this sorry franchise, as Republicans and their apologists and propagandists beg Ryan to use his superhero powers to save them from the lunatics who have taken over their party. It’s a measure of how deeply the Republicans have dived into know-nothing, do-nothing nihilism—and, no less significantly, how deeply our most prestigious pundits remain in denial about this fundamental fact—that Ryan has been able to continue the charade, despite having been repeatedly exposed as a math-challenged Ayn Rand acolyte.

The congressman’s emergence on the political scene earned him hosannas from both the center-left and center-right. Slate’s Jacob Weisberg led the pack: Writing beneath the headline “Good Plan!” followed by the adjectives “brave, radical, and smart,” Weisberg was particularly enamored with Ryan’s willingness to lower taxes on the wealthy as he subsequently undermined the Medicare payments upon which middle-class and poor people depend for their healthcare. On the other side of the center aisle, David Brooks insisted that Ryan had “set the standard of seriousness for anybody who wants to play in this discussion,” and credited him with the manly virtue of tackling “just about every politically risky issue with brio and guts.”

Brooks’s fellow New York Times pundits James B. Stewart and Joe Nocera also raised their pom-poms and lowered their intellectual standards to cheer Ryan on. The former misled his audience by insisting that Ryan’s plan would somehow raise taxes on the rich. The latter lamented that Democrats proved “gleeful” when they won a special congressional election that turned, in part, on the voters’ distaste for Ryan’s plan. The man was so wonderful, apparently, that the other guys should simply have forfeited the game and gone home.

Interestingly, some of the smitten already had an inkling that what they were selling was snake oil. Weisberg admitted that Ryan’s budget was full of “sleight-of-hand tricks” and wouldn’t actually come close to eliminating the deficit in the coming decade, “leaving $400 billion in annual deficits as far as the eye can see.” And Nocera dutifully acknowledged that “Ryan’s solution is wrong­headed,” before adding he was “right that Medicare is headed for trouble.”

In fact, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Ryan’s budget would have “likely produce[d] the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase[d] poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history).” The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center calculated that people earning over $1 million a year could expect, on average, $265,000 above the $129,000 they would have gotten from Ryan’s proposed extension of George W. Bush’s tax cuts. Meanwhile, middle-class and poor Americans would likely see their incomes decline, as Medicare and other support programs would be slashed to the point of destruction. Even Ryan admitted that enactment of his Robin-Hood-in-reverse plan would lead to a significant increase in the deficit, an unavoidable fact despite the transparently dishonest assumptions on which the argument rested. These included science-fiction levels of predicted growth, together with the pie-in-the-sky promise to close unspecified tax loopholes. Those loopholes, it turns out, only seem to increase with every campaign contribution.

By now, the narrative is all but set in stone. Washington’s own St. Paul is saving the Republicans from their out-of-control Tea Party golem. As one of many breathless Politico headlines put it, Ryan “conquered the Freedom Caucus” by forcing its members to cave in on the demands that toppled the hapless John Boehner in return for Ryan’s willingness to accept the crown of House speaker and save the party from catastrophe. Once again, however, the devilish details contradict the story line. Ryan’s deal with the Freedom Caucus crazies, according to Politico itself, rests far more on capitulation than conquest. For starters, Ryan agreed to give the Freedom Caucus more power on the influential House Republican Steering Committee. He also promised to drop immigration reform from the Republican agenda and to follow the “Hastert rule,” by which no legislation can come to the floor unless it is supported in advance by a majority of Republicans—which means guess who? If the Mets had played this well against the Dodgers and the Cubs, they’d be watching the World Series on TV.

This “Ryan to the rescue” fairy tale is merely the latest manifestation of a corrupt bargain made by many members of the mainstream media. Unable to escape the intellectual straitjacket that requires them to cover the Republican Party as if its ideas are serious, they accept a false equivalence between Republican crazy-talk and normative reality. Clearly, no honest analysis can support such coverage of a party whose leading candidates—including Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Ted Cruz—routinely say such nutty things that they make far-right extremists like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio sound relatively reasonable. As the respected (and centrist) political scientist Theodore Mann of the Brookings Institution recently put it, “Republicans have become more an insurgency than a major political party capable of governing.” This “reality of asymmetric polarization, which the mainstream media and most good government groups have avoided discussing,” Mann notes, has come “at great costs to the country.” Quite obviously, it should also have cost its enablers their reputations for honesty, perspicacity, and prudence. But the pontification business in America is apparently a perpetual-motion machine that can run indefinitely on ideological hot air.

 

By: Eric Alterman, Columnist, The Nation, October 29, 2015

October 30, 2015 Posted by | House Freedom Caucus, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Party That Couldn’t Kabuki Straight”: Prone To Fights To The Death Over Strategy, Tactics And Above All, Symbolism

If you have been following the intra-GOP brouhaha in the U.S. House semi-carefully, you probably realize that much of the conflict between Freedom Caucus bravos and the other Republicans has been over how much hysteria to expend on efforts to force presidential vetoes of prized legislation instead of letting their bills succumb to Senate filibusters. Perhaps some of these birds actually do believe Obama would allow them to kill funding for Planned Parenthood or revoke his executive actions on immigration or mess up Obamacare in the face of a government shutdown or a debt limit default. But for the most part they seem to think there’s vast electoral or psychological or moral gold to be mined from showing exactly what they would do if one of their hirelings was in the White House.

Presumably that’s why the Kabuki Theater exercise of sending Obama a budget reconciliation bill–which cannot be filibustered–that “defunds” Planned Parenthood and repeals key parts of Obamacare has run afoul of right-wing opposition, per a report from Politico‘s Seung Min Kim:

[T]hree conservative members of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s conference — Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah — have already vowed to vote against the current reconciliation package that repeals major parts of Obamacare, arguing it doesn’t go far enough. If those votes don’t budge, McConnell can’t afford to lose any more votes from his 54-member ranks.

Meanwhile, a provision in the reconciliation bill that defunds Planned Parenthood for one year could cause some heartburn for moderates who don’t support stripping money from the women’s health group.

A draft bill did pass the House on Friday, but over the opposition of Heritage Action, which will make another effort to blow it up in the Senate unless the Obamacare repeal language is broader. But that could make the bill vulnerable to a parliamentarian’s ruling that it violates the Byrd Rule limiting reconciliation bills to provisions germane to the federal budget.

You will note that Marco Rubio, the smart-money favorite to become the Republican Establishment’s darling and win the GOP presidential nomination, is right there with Ted Cruz on obstructing any bill that leaves any significant element of Obamacare standing–on paper, of course. This is presumably a gesture by Rubio to reassure ideologues he would make the executive branch an instrument of their will should they allow his name to grace the top of the ballot next year.

This is the congressional party Paul Ryan will apparently try to lead as Speaker–one prone to fights to the death over strategy, tactics and above all symbolism.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 26, 2015

 

October 26, 2015 Posted by | House Freedom Caucus, House Republicans, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Governing-By-Crisis Has Gotten Even Worse”: The Risk That America Will Default On Its Debts Is Now Higher Than Ever

It’s tempting to say that the upcoming need to increase the debt ceiling is another depressing iteration of the governing-by-crisis that we’ve gotten used to over the last five years since Republicans took control of the House. But it isn’t. It’s worse. The chaos that is the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives is about to have some very serious effects on the entire country.

Why is this crisis different from those that came before it? In all of the government shutdown/debt ceiling crises of the last five years, we knew how they would end: eventually, after putting up a show of fighting against that dastardly Obama administration, John Boehner would allow a vote on a bill to either fund the government or raise the debt ceiling, knowing that it would pass only with the votes of Democrats plus a few dozen Republicans sane enough to want to avoid catastrophe. The conservatives would cry “Betrayal!” but the crisis would be over.

But now even that may not be possible. Here’s the latest news from Politico this morning:

House GOP leaders initially planned to vote on a red-meat proposal Friday pitched by the Republican Study Committee to increase the debt ceiling while imposing new limits on executive-branch power. That measure stood no chance of passing the Senate, but would at least show effort.

Yet when House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) team tested Republican support for the legislation, it fell far short of the needed 218 votes, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) postponed any floor action.

Now, the U.S. government is 12 days from reaching the debt limit without a clear plan of what to do.

Boehner, McCarthy and other GOP leaders are refusing at this point to move ahead with a “clean” debt ceiling bill insisted on by President Barack Obama. Senior leadership aides said they couldn’t find the 30 Republican votes needed to join with all 188 Democrats to pass that proposal — a bleak indication of the current state of play.

So there aren’t even 30 Republicans in the House willing to keep the United States government from defaulting on its debts. How did we get here?

First, let’s establish some context, since it’s been a while since we had a debt ceiling crisis. For some idiosyncratic historical reasons, the United States has a statutory limit on how many bonds it can issue to pay for what Congress buys, meaning that after it passes a budget, Congress has to pass an extra bill allowing the government to pay for that budget (the only other industrialized country that has a debt ceiling is Denmark, which might dim Bernie Sanders’ affection for the place, though theirs is set so high it doesn’t become a political football). For almost a century, debt ceiling increases were an occasion for brief political theater, as members of the party out of power would make some floor speeches about the administration’s outrageous spending, and then the bill would pass extending the ceiling for a year or two, because even the most committed opponents of the administration weren’t so deranged as to actually want to risk the United States government defaulting on its debts. But that was before the Tea Party came to town.

If a new bill raising the ceiling doesn’t pass by November 3rd, we will default. The Obama administration, as it always has, insists upon a “clean” debt ceiling increase — just increase it, and then we can argue about our other policy disagreements without threatening the full faith and credit of the United States. Republicans, however, see this as a great opportunity for blackmail.

So why are we even more likely now to fail to pass an increase than we were when we had this same crisis in 2011, then again in 2013, then again in 2014? Look at what’s going on in the House. Conservatives there are feeling emboldened because they just got rid of John Boehner, as they had wanted to do for so long. They feel strong and empowered, so naturally they believe that this is a battle they can win, even if they’ve lost before. And they’ve upped their demands.

Now they want not just general budget cuts in exchange for raising the ceiling, but cuts specifically to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That demand was contained in a document the House Freedom Caucus put out recently, and the conservative Republican Study Committee’s proposal would raise the ceiling in exchange for $3.8 billion in cuts to those programs over the next decade, along with a freeze on all regulations until Barack Obama leaves office. If they think Democrats would ever accept those terms, they’ve lost their minds. But they seem serious.

But it isn’t just this recent revolt. As Jackie Calmes and David Herszenhorn of the New York Times recently pointed out, today’s House is even more conservative than it was when we came so close to defaulting before:

The legislative math has only grown more difficult. When Congress last voted in February 2014 to suspend the debt limit, 28 House Republicans joined nearly all Democrats in support; 199 Republicans were opposed. Now there are fewer Democrats in the House and if all 188 of them voted for an increase, Republican leaders would need 30 votes from their side for a 218-vote majority — two more than last year.

Yet nine of last year’s 28 Republican supporters have left Congress and at least three of their Republican successors — Representatives Dave Brat of Virginia, Steve Knight of California and Mark Walker, Republican of North Carolina — are almost certain to be opposed.

Also, 14 Democrats who voted to increase the debt limit are gone, replaced by Republicans, some of whom are likely to vote no.

That’s why they can’t even find 30 Republicans to vote for a clean increase. Then there’s the question of the next Speaker, who will be the one actually shepherding this crisis if Republicans stick to their schedule of electing the new Speaker next week.  While Paul Ryan hasn’t said publicly what he thinks ought to be done, he voted against the increase last year. This topic surely came up when he went to the Freedom Caucus to win their support. What did he tell them? They fervently want to use the threat of default to extort the administration into satisfying some of their policy goals. Is one of Ryan’s first acts a Speaker going to be turning his back on them? Don’t bet on it.

All this suggests that every force involved is propelling Republicans not just toward forcing a crisis, but forcing an actual default. At some point, they might realize that “Republicans are holding a gun to the head of the American economy and they’ll fire unless we let them slash Social Security and Medicare” isn’t exactly a winning political message to send. But who knows how much damage will be done before they realize that?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 23, 2015

October 25, 2015 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, House Freedom Caucus, House Republican Caucus, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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