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“House Freedom Caucus Demands”: Granting The Insurgents Continuing Power To Be Disruptive

It is looking likely that Rep. Paul Ryan will be elected Speaker of the House next week. Who knows what has transpired behind closed doors, but the word is that he and the Freedom Caucus reached a deal that won enough of them over for him to be elected.

What we also know is that the Freedom Caucus designed a questionnaire for speaker candidates. Kevin Quealy and Carl Hulse have done us all a service by translating those demands from Congressional legalese into plain English.

In looking at the list of 21 items, a lot of the things they are pushing for would simply undo the reforms instituted by Newt Gingrich that put power in the hands of the House Leadership – specifically the Speaker. In that way, they grant the insurgents continuing power to be disruptive.

But there are a few things that would mean pretty immediate chaos. For example, item 13 asks: are you willing to hold the debt limit hostage until we prevail on other issues? Specifically, the Freedom Caucus wants “structural entitlement reforms” in the 2016 budget and the Default Prevention Act (which President Obama has promised to veto) included in any legislation that raises the debt ceiling.

Given that the Treasury has informed Congress that the debt limit will be reached November 3rd – exactly one week after the House votes for a new Speaker – that doesn’t give Paul Ryan a lot of time to work this one out.

Making that job even harder is item 7 which seeks to institutionalize the so-called “Hastert Rule.” It would require that Republicans consider only legislation that has the support of the majority of their party. That would eliminate the possibility for Ryan to develop a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats to raise the debt ceiling.

If all that weren’t bad enough, item 15 demands that the new Speaker refuse to pass a budget that contains funding for Planned Parenthood, “unconditional amnesty,” the Iran deal and Obamacare. In other words…”We demand a government shutdown!”

There are several other interesting items, like a demand to impeach the IRS Commissioner, turn the highway program over to states, stick to the spending caps in sequestration, etc. But in a deliciously hypocritical move, item 6 demands that Republicans who signed the discharge petition to fund the Ex-Im Bank be punished, while items 4 & 5 demand that members who oppose rule changes and/or vote their conscience not be punished.

If Rep. Ryan has in any way agreed to these demands, things are going to blow up in the House very quickly. If he and the Freedom Caucus simply put off dealing with them, things are going to blow up in the House very quickly. Get my drift?

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 24, 2015

October 25, 2015 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, House Freedom Caucus, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Paul Ryan Is Doomed, Too”: He Will End Up In The Same Position As Boehner — Held Hostage By The Freedom Caucus

A week ago, Paul Ryan looked doomed. Now, he looks really, truly doomed.

The Wisconsin Republican, who achieved national prominence as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, seems more likely than ever to become the next speaker of the House. A devout man of faith, he will need your prayers.

When incumbent John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) announced his resignation, Ryan made clear he did not want the job. Who on earth would? Boehner spent his tenure trying — and failing — to corral ultra-conservative Republicans into a working majority.

GOP victories in the 2010 midterm elections had swept into office a group of nihilistic renegades who believe the way to change Washington is to blow it up.

Now calling themselves the Freedom Caucus, these 40 or so legislative bomb-throwers insisted on fighting battles they had no chance of winning and repeatedly took the country to the brink of calamity.

They threatened government shutdowns (and achieved one). They tried to block routine increases in the federal debt ceiling. They kept the House from passing spending bills in key areas, such as transportation, where there once was bipartisan agreement. They insisted on more than 50 useless attempts to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act, knowing these measures would fail in the Senate or be vetoed by President Obama.

As presumptive speaker, Ryan can look forward to more of the same.

Ryan is seen as the only figure who could potentially unite the fractious GOP caucus. As such, he has leverage — and he is trying his best to use it.

He insisted on having the support of all 247 Republicans before he would accept the job. But now he is reportedly willing to settle for less.

The Freedom Caucus announced Wednesday that a “supermajority” of its members would back Ryan. There was no official endorsement from the group, however, which means the unspecified majority fell short of 80 percent.

That doesn’t sound so bad — perhaps 10 or fewer unreconciled renegades, who theoretically could be marginalized. “I believe this is a positive step toward a unified Republican team,” Ryan said. But in courting the ultra-conservatives, he reportedly made concessions that seem to guarantee that the speaker’s gavel will be a symbol of misery, not of power.

The main problem is that Ryan is said to have promised to follow the “Hastert rule,” named for former speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), requiring that legislation have the support of a majority of the GOP caucus before it is brought to the House floor.

Boehner had to break the Hastert rule whenever ultra-conservatives threatened to bring about disaster — a potentially catastrophic default because the debt limit needed to be raised, for example. In those instances, Boehner got the legislation passed with a cobbled-together majority comprising Democrats and moderate Republicans.

To keep his job, Boehner generally kept to the Hastert rule on other, less critical legislation. This is what made the Congresses he led so spectacularly unproductive.

In 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Had Boehner brought the legislation to the floor of the House, it almost surely would have passed — but with the votes of Democrats and GOP moderates. A majority of the Republican caucus opposed comprehensive reform, so Boehner never allowed a vote on it.

Immigration, at least, is a hot-button issue; transportation is not. Yet Boehner could not even get a majority of his caucus to support a routine six-year transportation bill. This is the kind of legislation that used to be a simple matter of arithmetic and routinely passed with broad bipartisan support. For today’s House Republicans, however, fixing roads and bridges is somehow an ideological issue. Just about everything, in fact, is an ideological issue.

If Ryan does become speaker and respects the Hastert rule, he will end up in the same position as Boehner — held hostage by the Freedom Caucus. In his meeting with the group, moreover, he reportedly softened his demand to eliminate a House procedure in which any member can call for a vote to “vacate the chair,” or kick the speaker out of his job. And he also reportedly promised to devolve more power to the rank and file, which is precisely the opposite of what needs to happen.

If Ryan gets the job, he will likely enjoy a honeymoon period. But the fundamental problem — no functional GOP majority — will remain. Ryan believes government should be small. Much of his caucus believes it should be thwarted.

Sounds like doom to me.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 22, 2015

October 23, 2015 Posted by | House Freedom Caucus, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Free Weekends Back In Wisconsin”: The Freedom Caucus’ Dilemma; Veto Ryan Or Surrender

According to the most authoritative account we have of what went down when House Republicans met last night, from WaPo’s Robert Costa and Mike DeBonis, Paul Ryan’s agreed to be Speaker if and only if an unprecedented array of “conditions” are met. Some involve his much-reported demands for free weekends back in Wisconsin and reduced fundraising duties. But the real challenge he’s posing is the requirement that the House Conference’s main ideological groupings all endorse him by Friday and essentially promise in advance that they will never threaten him with the kind of defenestration suffered by John Boehner and Kevin McCarthy. In fact, he’s proposing to remove the very lever that led to Boeher’s early departure: a mechanism whereby a majority of House members can at any moment remove a sitting Speaker.

So in effect Ryan’s telling the House Freedom Caucus, the only grouping likely to resist his takeover, that they have the power to veto him between now and Friday, but if they don’t they’d better put on the party harness.

What’s unclear is where Ryan is on the “procedural reforms” Freedom Caucus members keep talking about that would reduce the Speaker’s power to control what legislation comes to the floor and the sanctions that can be used to suppress dissent. They certainly cut against the consolidation of power Ryan clearly wants. But he did make one substantive concession to the ultras: he promised not to bring any comprehensive immigration reform bill to the House floor any time soon (presumably one like the Senate bill, that could be passed with Democratic votes).

In another account of developments in the House last night, National Review quoted Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) complaining at some length about Ryan’s conditions.

“The best thing I can assume is that he really doesn’t want the job,” he says. “You put forth a list of conditions that nobody is going to throw their weight behind, and force people to tell you ‘no,’ rather than the other way around . . . that’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”

If the Freedom Caucus does tell Ryan “no,” the assembled Republican Establishment and MSM commentariats are going to come down on them with thunderous condemnations. It will be fascinating to see if they seize their one avenue to a demonstration of power, or go quietly into probable irrelevance.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, Octoer 21, 2015

October 22, 2015 Posted by | House Freedom Caucus, House Republicans, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Privileged Motion To Vacate The Speakership”: If Paul Ryan Thinks His Demands Will Control Right-Wingers, He’s Fooling Himself

Paul Ryan won’t agree to be the next speaker of the House of Representatives unless the reactionary conservatives who comprise the House Freedom Caucus agree to meet his terms, most of which are agreeable or vague enough to pose no serious problems. He wants to avoid the dull but exhausting fundraising responsibilities that come with the job, so he can enjoy weekends with his family, and make his speakership more ideological than managerial.

But one condition is meant to bring the rowdy caucus that deposed John Boehner to heel. This is the sticking point that could put an end to the Ryan-for-speaker clamor. And the irony is that, though this central demand is extraordinary, it’s probably also inadequate to the task of isolating and neutralizing the members making the Republican Party ungovernable.

Before he’ll agree to enter the race, Ryan wants the rule that made the coup threats against Boehner credible to be changed. Right now any member can introduce a privileged motion to vacate the speakership. If you know you can deny the current speaker the 218 votes he needs to keep his job, you can control him. Ryan wants to erect unspecified obstacles to effectively deweaponize the motion.

The existence of this arcane maneuver is the source of most of the Freedom Caucus’ power. Under the status quo, any Republican speaker who crosses the Freedom Caucus is in jeopardy. That’s why Boehner was never able to control his conference or lead House Republicans in a unified front of opposition. It’s also why members of the Freedom Caucus are reluctant to accept Ryan’s terms.

The nature of these terms suggests Ryan sees this single, far-reaching one as a panacea, or if not that, then the only thing that’ll allow him to run the House successfully, without sacrificing the conservative bona fides he’ll need to win a future GOP presidential primary. This thinking is probably incorrect.

Assuming conservatives are willing to bite—an unsafe assumption—the Freedom Caucus’ leverage won’t disappear. It’ll shrink, yes, but then it’ll migrate to other avenues of mischief. If they continue banding together, conservatives would still be able to spoil the party’s legislative agenda. This alone would damage Ryan’s longer-term prospects, by forcing him into regular governing coalitions with Democrats. Unable to depose the speaker, they could take aim at other powerful Republicans (like, perhaps, those on the rules committee who will enable Ryan and help him advance legislation), becoming more like a third party than they already are. New opportunities for troublemaking would spring up everywhere, overlooked in the past because they weren’t necessary.

Late Tuesday, several Republicans speculated that Ryan intentionally devised his demands to be rejected, so that he could escape the onus of the speakership, and blame the Freedom Caucus for driving him away. If that’s his endgame, he’d better hope conservatives don’t call his bluff.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor at The New Republic, October 21, 2015

October 21, 2015 Posted by | House Freedom Caucus, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Taking Stock Of The Global Dysfunction On The Right”: Raising The Debt Ceiling Won’t Prove House Republicans Are Sane

After House Speaker John Boehner announced his decision to resign at the end of October, and then more urgently when the Treasury Department alerted Congress that the deadline to increase the statutory debt limit had advanced to the beginning of November, a sense of dread momentarily overwhelmed official Washington.

Budget experts, economists, and anyone with a political memory going back at least four years were abruptly consumed with the likelihood that the responsibility for increasing the debt limit would fall to an untested new speaker—and, more troublingly, a speaker whose election would require him to placate House hardliners with dangerous promises.

The solution to the dilemma was obvious at the time, and remains so: An unencumbered Boehner could place legislation to increase the debt limit on the House floor, and it would pass. But until this week it was unclear how aggressively he intended to clean house before his departure, or whether he’d leave multiple obligations to his successor.

Though the speakership crisis and the debt-limit crisis remain unresolved, the sense of alarm has drained out of the story almost as rapidly as it emerged. Cooler heads have seemingly rescued the debt limit from conservative hostage-takers. And that has created a temptation to celebrate averted catastrophe as a triumph of political reality over right-wing fanaticism.

Succumbing to that temptation would be a huge mistake. It is crucial at this point to take stock of the global dysfunction on the right, and appreciate just how badly it has imperiled our system of government.

We owe the prospect of an uneventful debt limit resolution to a deus ex machina. Boehner’s heir presumptive, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, abandoned the race for speaker to the tune of Yakety Sax, denuding the House Benghazi Committee along the way and compelling Boehner to consider increasing the debt limit—either without precondition, or as part of a genuinely bipartisan agreement—before he leaves Congress.

Despite rumblings from the other chamber, this should go down fairly smoothly in the Senate. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s chief deputy, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said in a recent CNN interview that he’s “ready to raise the debt limit ‘until 2017’ in order to get the matter off the table during an election year. McConnell, sources say, feels the same way, and the two sides are discussing the possibility of raising the debt limit until March 2017, just two months after a new president and Congress are sworn in.” Crisis deferred.

Debt-ceiling dramas like this aren’t borne of necessity. They’re concocted to appease reactionaries in the House. In this way, they’re an artifact of the Tea Party insurgency five years ago, and the untenable promises GOP leaders made to conservatives after President Obama was first elected. The legislative landscape is littered with such artifacts—past hostage crises, consensus immigration legislation, even the Benghazi committee itself—and it’s our good fortune that several of them are now at the forefront of U.S. politics simultaneously.

The fact that Republicans revealed the Benghazi Committee to be an elaborate farce, just in time for Hillary Clinton to testify before it, and that the’re likely to extend the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority without incident, can both be construed as side-effects of overreach—a natural political check on extremism that prevents the legislature from becoming completely weaponized. “Whether or not Boehner actually ends up sparing us the needless drama of a protracted confrontation,” writes Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, “the fact that he’s looking to resolve this without one itself confirms how this will ultimately end, no matter what has to happen along the way. And there’s no need for anyone to pretend otherwise.” 

There’s something comforting about that interpretation, and at a general level, it’s basically correct. But it doesn’t account for the enormous role coincidence played in saving the country from another near-catastrophe, or outright default, in this particular instance.

It would thus behoove us to be mindful of how badly things could have gone if events had transpired slightly differently—if the debt limit deadline hadn’t budged, if McCarthy had succeeded Boehner, by promising confrontation with the White House—before moving on to the next big story. Republican dysfunction has never caused the U.S. to default, but it does create a much higher-risk environment. One plausible remedy lies in the hope that the confluence of events—the speakership crisis, the debt-limit drama, the Benghazi admissions, the Republican primary meltdown—will, in James Fallows’ words, eliminate “the discomfort of reporters, old and young alike, with recognizing that the United States doesn’t currently have two structurally similar political parties approaching issues on roughly comparable terms [but] one historically familiar-looking party, and another converting itself into something else.”

In an interview with Bloomberg View, the political scientist Thomas Mann—who, along with his coauthor Norm Ornstein, has been at pains for years to awaken the press to the reality of modern American politics—explained that “the solution … must focus on the obvious but seldom acknowledged asymmetry between the parties.”

Under quieter circumstances, that would be a pipe dream. Under the extreme circumstances of the moment, it’s a little more plausible. First, though, everyone must resist the temptation to disaggregate these stories and chalk them up individually to dramatic, but ultimately normal, politics.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor at The New Republic, October 16, 2015

October 18, 2015 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, House Freedom Caucus, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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