“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
“Biden Urges Us To Regain Our Sense Of National Purpose”: The Vice President Struck A Chord Too Long Missing From Our Public Debates
After Joe Biden’s Rose Garden announcement, news reports naturally focused on his decision not to seek the presidency. But the overarching theme of his short address was something more powerful and less political: This is a great country that ought to be more optimistic about its potential, more ambitious in its goals, more confident about its future.
That theme underlay Biden’s clarion call for a “moonshot” to cure cancer. As he noted — “It’s personal,” he said — his grief over the untimely death of his son, Beau Biden, fueled his sense of urgency. The younger Biden, Delaware’s attorney general, died in May at the age of 46, after a long battle with brain cancer.
Still, the vice president struck a chord too long missing from our public debates, too little heard in our partisan warfare: We have the ability to accomplish great things when we summon the will to do so.
“I know we can do this. The president and I have already been working hard on increasing funding for research and development, because there are so many breakthroughs just on the horizon in science and medicine. The things that are just about to happen, we can make them real with an absolute national commitment to end cancer as we know it today. … If I could be anything, I would want to be the president that ended cancer, because it’s possible.”
Whatever happened to that feisty spirit in our civic life? Whatever became of our sense of never-ending achievement, of unbridled national ambition, of great national purpose? Why don’t we reach for the stars anymore?
Instead, we’ve become brittle, limited in our expectations, dour in our outlook, afraid that the nation’s best days have already passed. While the lingering effects of the Great Recession, as well as the global threat of terrorism, have undoubtedly worked to dampen our optimism, history teaches that we’ve faced down more daunting odds before.
Indeed, the long-running Cold War, when the Soviet Union represented an existential threat to the United States, inspired the great space race that led to Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. The United States poured money into the sciences, down to the high school level. That period of bountiful scientific research benefited not only NASA, but also countless other streams of inquiry — including the pioneering communications work that led to the Internet.
Since the 1970s, though, Congress has slowly drained away money from the sciences, a process that has sped up over the last few years. In their current obsession with reducing federal government spending, GOP budget cutters have hacked away at everything from medical research to space exploration.
Nowadays, Congress can’t even agree to fund things that we know work. While all reasonable people agree that the country needs to repair and rebuild its aging infrastructure — bridges, highways, dams — Congress cannot manage to set aside the funds that are necessary.
During his first presidential campaign, President Obama called for a massive revamping of the nation’s electric grid, a plan to put in place the energy infrastructure for the 21st century. But that’s rarely even discussed anymore.
Instead, a small minority of vociferous partisans holds up routine legislation, such as raising the debt ceiling to pay the bills we’ve already incurred. That’s how a great nation behaves?
It’s not clear that even a massive infusion of research dollars — Biden’s “moonshot” — would lead to a “cure” for cancer. Scientists would likely even debate the use of the phrase, since cancer is not a single disease but rather a group of diseases that share the phenomenon of abnormal cell growth.
Still, Biden’s call for pouring national resources into the search for better treatment options makes sense. When President Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon!” our scientists weren’t certain we could do that either. But they dared to dream big dreams. Why don’t we do that anymore?
By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Winner for commentary, 2007; The National Memo, October 24, 2015
“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
“Insufficiently Conservative”: It Doesn’t Matter Who The Next Speaker Is Because This Is A Permanent Conservative Rebellion
Many Republicans are looking at what’s happening in the House of Representatives right now with something between consternation and horror. The party is tearing itself apart, unable to pick a leader for one of its key institutional bases of power and riven by disagreements that seem unbridgeable.
But you want to know who isn’t upset about all this? The ultra-conservative members who are driving it, not to mention the conservative organizations and media figures who are cheering them on. They’re having a blast.
The most important thing to understand about what’s happening now is that this is a permanent rebellion. It has its demands, both substantive and procedural, but those demands aren’t the point, and if they were met, new ones would be forthcoming. For the people behind the chaos, rebellion itself is the point. It’s about the fight, not about the outcome of that fight. They will never stop rebelling.
That’s why it doesn’t really matter much who actually ends up in the Speaker’s chair. Whoever that Speaker is, he’ll be judged inadequate, not enough of a fighter, too willing to roll over. After all, no matter who he is or what he does (and yes, I’m assuming it will be a man, because there aren’t any viable female candidates at this point), he won’t successfully repeal Obamacare, or send all the illegals away, or slash taxes rates, or outlaw abortion, or pound his gavel until the thunderous vibrations reach down Pennsylvania Avenue and drive that usurper Barack Obama out of the White House and back to Chicago. In the eyes of the rebels, the next Speaker will fail, just like his predecessor did. And the rebellion will have to continue.
Speculation today centers around Paul Ryan, who commands a good deal of respect within the caucus. Though Ryan has said repeatedly that he isn’t interested in being Speaker — he’s now chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, a powerful position he sought for some time — he is coming under intense pressure from colleagues to accept the post. Here’s how Paul Kane and Robert Costa described the state of affairs this morning:
By mid-afternoon, outgoing speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had spoken to Ryan at least twice, trying to convince the reluctant congressman that he was the only man who could save House Republicans from their self-created chaos.
By day’s end, after hunkering down for two hours in his ceremonial office a few steps from the House floor, after listening to pleas from friends to take the reins of the bitterly divided Republican caucus, he emerged, declining to explicitly state his plans…
As they voted on the House floor late Thursday, Ryan was besieged by his GOP colleagues. As the lawmakers huddled, Ryan aides canceled his fundraising and political events for the next 48 hours, a move interpreted by his friends as a signal that he had gone from a hard “no” to undecided after speaking with Boehner.
The latest statement from Ryan’s office reiterates: “Chairman Ryan appreciates the support he’s getting from his colleagues but is still not running for Speaker.” Of course, this could still change.
The assumption among many is that Ryan could be a unifying figure, the only one who could bring together the fractious caucus. But not only is there no particular reason to think that’s true, his potential candidacy for Speaker is already dividing the party.
Ryan is being promoted by establishment sources like the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the National Review, which in itself is being read by the rebels as a reason to reject him. Influential radio host Laura Ingraham tweeted: “Are they talking abt the same Paul Ryan who once lost a VP debate to JOE BIDEN?” She added, “Chaos? Only if you are bought and paid for by the Establishment. Cathartic for most.” “Paul Ryan Is The Absolute Worst Choice For Speaker,” says Brietbart.com, explaining that he’s really a weakling who’ll knuckle under just like John Boehner did.
The House Freedom Caucus, which has become the center of the rebellion, has a document outlining its current demands in the form of a questionnaire for any potential Speaker, which includes things like not raising the debt ceiling without “significant structural entitlement reforms” (i.e. cutting and restructuring Medicare and Social Security); shutting down the government unless they can defund Planned Parenthood, repeal Obamacare, invalidate the Iran deal, and more; and perhaps most importantly, a series of process “reforms” that would take power away from the Speaker to determine how legislation proceeds and distribute it around to all the members of the caucus. They seem to want to ensure not only that the next Speaker is someone disinclined to make compromises with the Senate or the White House, but that he won’t be able to even if he wanted to.
They’re not going to get all that from the next Speaker, which they surely know. But deep down that’s probably okay with them, because in a way, not getting what they want is exactly what they want. They didn’t come to Washington to write legislation and craft policy. They came to fight — to fight Barack Obama, and just as important (if not more so), to fight their own party’s leadership. Many of them won their seats in the first place by either challenging incumbent Republicans who were deemed insufficiently conservative and confrontational, or besting a field of primary contenders by proving they would fight the establishment with more vigor and venom than anyone else. Every defeat only makes them more sure that the answer is to fight harder. This is their purpose. Fighting is energizing, exciting, and inspiring, much more than sitting in some boring subcommittee hearing.
There’s a reason old rebels keep talking about “the revolution” years and decades after they came out of the jungle and stormed the capital. Nothing about the work of governing can match the righteous thrill of the battle against the oppressors. The innovation the tea partiers brought to Washington was that you could get power, but then not bother to figure out how to use it to achieve the policy goals you claim to hold. Instead, you could just keep fighting, so the rebellion never ends. It’s obvious now that’s precisely what they intend to do, no matter who the next Speaker of the House is.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 9, 2015
There is a time for war and a time for peace, according to the book of Ecclesiastes and The Byrds. In the contest to replace John Boehner as speaker of the House, the Republican candidates chose to sell themselves as full-time political warriors. Forget about the national interest. Their job, as they have framed it, is to smite Democrats.
The security of American diplomats in dangerous places and maintaining America’s promise to pay its debts are a concern to everyone. Sadly, many ambitious Republicans distort the facts surrounding these important matters to fuel their political advancement. In their terms, that means entertaining hard-right voters not tuned in to the big picture. When that happens, governing stops.
Now we are not so naive as to think that a high wall separates governing and politics. But the House speaker needs to know how to avoid political warfare that turns the American people into collateral damage. Boehner understood that much of the time.
One of the aspirants, Jason Chaffetz, vowed to threaten default on the U.S. debt and a government shutdown as a means to yank concessions from Democrats. The Utah Republican’s martial words: “We’re just not going to unilaterally raise the debt limit.”
Huh? Fight over taxes and spending, sure, but compromise America’s reputation for honoring its debts as a negotiating tool? That treats the entire country as a hostage.
After the Republicans’ 2011 debt ceiling outrage, stock prices plunged, and consumer confidence fell through the floor. Standard & Poor’s lowered America’s previously magnificent credit rating. Even though a last-minute fix stopped the horrible from happening, the stunt cost all of us.
Just handing the powerful speaker of the House job to a man suggesting he’d do just that all over again weakens the American economy. If that weren’t sport enough, Chaffetz also backs shutting down the government rather than funding Planned Parenthood.
In promoting his political war skills, the leading contender, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, foolishly blew the cover off Republican motives for their endless investigation into the Benghazi tragedy. You see, Hillary Clinton was secretary of state when a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed at the besieged U.S. Consulate in Libya. Now she’s a strong Democratic candidate for president.
McCarthy said this: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today?”
What clever fellows they are. So dragging America through the details again and again had little to do with reaching a truth on Benghazi — one of a multitude of calamities tied to the violent chaos in that part of the world. It was all about pushing down Clinton’s poll numbers.
Republicans are understandably sore at McCarthy for making that revealing statement. What’s interesting is why a practiced politician such as McCarthy would say such an impolitic thing.
Perhaps when everything that happens is seen as politics, nothing seems impolitic. McCarthy was on Fox News Channel, where accusations concerning Benghazi (and Clinton’s use of private email while secretary of state) go round and round in a mind-numbing loop.
McCarthy may have simply lost track of the fact that there’s a voting public outside of the angry Republican base. He forgot that our officials in Washington have duties beyond obsessing about the next election.
As a final thought, let’s note that other democracies have rules in place to temper political warfare.
In Britain, for example, the speaker of the House of Commons must be nonpartisan. According to Wikipedia, “the Speaker, by convention, severs all ties with his or her political party, as it is considered essential that the Speaker be seen as an impartial presiding officer.”
In America, that’ll be the day.
By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, October 8, 2015