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“How The GOP Made Fiscal Responsibility Look Irresponsible”: It’s A Matter Of When, Not If, Republicans Will Cave

It’s a minor miracle: Both houses of the Republican-controlled Congress have passed a budget.

Now, that’s the easy part compared to getting appropriations bills to Obama’s desk that he will actually sign. And notwithstanding the bipartisan lovefest that surrounded the House bill fixing Medicare physician reimbursements (held up for the moment in the Senate over abortion), deep philosophical differences between the parties remain.

So a standoff between congressional Republicans and the White House is inevitable. (Unless you think Obama is going to suddenly want to repeal ObamaCare.) And under both Obama and President Bill Clinton, these stalemates have seldom ended well for the Republicans.

Why? Because even though the Constitution vests the most important taxing and spending powers in Congress, the president has some huge advantages. If the president doesn’t want to sign a given spending bill and Congress doesn’t have the votes to override the veto, lawmakers only have blunt instruments with which to force his hand. And since congressional Republicans tend to end up getting the blame in the media and in the polls, even those tools are of limited utility. The president knows it is a matter of when, not if, Republicans will cave.

Republicans are trying to rein in the spending driving both the long-term debt and the unfunded liabilities of the major entitlement programs the Democrats built. They are trying to be fiscally responsible.

You may not agree with all the cuts Republicans make in their budgets. You may not be convinced their numbers add up. But Paul Ryan and Tom Price have been more transparent about their fiscal vision than most of their detractors.

The president has a different vision, and he isn’t budging. To try and force his hand (if not change his mind), Republicans have relied on a series of high-profile manufactured crises: the fiscal cliff, various debt ceiling standoffs, government shutdowns, near-shutdowns of major Cabinet departments, the threat of across-the-board tax increases, you name it.

And that’s the problem. In the process, they have made fiscal responsibility look downright irresponsible.

As the national debt was careening toward $18 trillion, Republicans insisted there be some limit to the federal government’s borrowing power. But because of the means they used to try to compel the president, it was the Republicans who stood accused of refusing to pay Washington’s bills and letting the government default on its obligations.

In the fiscal cliff debate, Obama likened congressional Republicans to hostage takers when they tried to hold the line on spending and taxes. Fiscally-minded conservatives probably fancy themselves more green eyeshade accountants than hostage takers. But it’s true that the GOP’s weaponized approach made them look like irresponsible bad guys, at least in the mainstream media.

These battles haven’t been a total loss for Republicans. Far more of the Bush tax cuts have survived than once seemed likely. Sequestration has contained spending growth. But because sequestration hits defense spending as well as social programs, a lot of Republicans are as anxious for relief as the Democrats. This in turn annoys the party’s strongest fiscal conservatives. Why trust promises of future spending cuts when the leadership seems willing to roll back the ones already in effect?

Conservative activists are irritated by the fact they have little to show for the last time Republicans held the White House and Congress simultaneously — and probably feel a little guilty they didn’t do more to pressure Republicans at the time. So they have made up for it by pressuring Republicans to do things they don’t have enough power to do. And because the Republican leadership frequently says it will fight next time and then next time doesn’t come, their pleas for patience fall on deaf ears.

That’s true even among members of the House. A key group of fiscal conservatives clearly lacks confidence in the leadership but doesn’t have the votes or a plan to replace them.

While there has been substantial short-term deficit reduction, the fiscal picture over the longer term keeps getting bleaker. All conservative lawmakers can do is vote for bills they correctly see as entirely inadequate to fix the challenges facing the country — or deny leadership the votes to pass anything, except by working with the Democrats.

Thus the party of fiscal discipline often doesn’t seem disciplined at all.


By: W. James Antle, lll, The Week, March 30, 2015

March 31, 2015 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Fiscal Policy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sniveling Little Children”: Boehner Laments ‘Knuckleheads’ Within House GOP

Once in a while, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) sounds like a man who isn’t entirely fond of his ostensible followers.

Speaker John Boehner said that he’s got a “few knuckleheads” to deal with, and that’s largely why the Republican majority in the House looks good on paper but doesn’t always pan out with votes.

“On any given day, 16 of my members decide they’re going to go this way, and all of a sudden, I have nothing,” he said, describing the reality of his “paper majority” in the House, The Hill reported. “You might notice I have a few knuckleheads in my conference.”

According to the report in the conservative Washington Times, Boehner went on say, “Dealing with Democrats is one thing. Dealing with the knuckleheads is another.”

Whether he finds one easier to deal with than the other was unclear.

These comments come just five months after the Ohio Republican publicly mocked his own members over their reluctance to work on immigration reform.

“Here’s the attitude: ‘Oh, don’t make me do this. Oh, this is too hard,” Boehner said, in a tone deriding House Republicans as if they were sniveling children. He added, “We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems, and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to.”

Remember, this was the Republican Speaker referring to Republican House members. Now Boehner is also willing to concede an unknown number of his members are “knuckleheads,” too.

The candor is certainly welcome, though the larger point is how understandable the Speaker’s dissatisfaction is.

As we were reminded in late July, when House Republicans killed Boehner’s border bill, the Speaker has surprisingly limited influence over what his members actually support.

A Democratic source on Capitol Hill recently sent around a brutal collection of bills Boehner asked his members to support, only to see his own House GOP conference reject his appeals: a grand bargain, a debt-ceiling bill in 2011, a payroll tax extension, a transportation bill, a farm bill, one fiscal-cliff bill, another fiscal-cliff bill, another farm bill, and then yesterday. I think my source might have even missed a couple, including the collapse of Boehner’s debt-ceiling bill in February 2014.

What’s more, think about how regularly Boehner is pushed around. He didn’t want to initiate a debt-ceiling crisis, but his members didn’t give him much of a choice. The Speaker didn’t want to hold several dozen ACA repeal votes, but his members called the shots on this, too.

Four years after taking hold of the Speaker’s gavel, Boehner has no legislative accomplishments and has developed a reputation as the weakest Speaker in modern times.

The surprise isn’t that Boehner calls his members “knuckleheads”; the surprise is that he doesn’t use stronger language in public.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 17, 2014

September 18, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Five Days Of Togetherness”: Congress’ Holiday To-Do List Will Never Be Finished

The House of Representatives is back in session this week and facing a laundry list of issues that were not dealt with in the first 11 months of the year. The House plans to be in session for two weeks, sending members home for the rest of the year on Friday, Dec. 13. Friday the 13th; that seems like a bad omen. And it may, indeed, be a very unlucky day for the nation if the House really does adjourn for the year.

The Senate, on the other hand, is not back in session until Dec. 9 and plans to stay in town until Dec. 20. For everyone keeping track, that means the two chambers will only be in town at the same time for five “working” days.

If the Congress had been doing its job all year, this scheduling mismatch might not be such a problem. But it hasn’t. Not a single regular appropriations bill funding a government department or agency for the coming fiscal year has passed the Senate. The House has passed four of 12 required spending bills. Even if there was no other business to do, Congress could not complete the remaining work to fund government for the rest of fiscal year 2014 in a single week of “togetherness” in Washington.

And there is other business to do. The conference of the House and Senate Budget Committees, the result of the deal that ended the government shutdown, has apparently made progress in the last week, but hopes are not high for any real solution to the long-term budget problems facing the nation. A narrow agreement to set spending limits that will replace sequestration with other revenue or cuts for the next two years may be better than nothing … or it may not. The devil is always in the details and we don’t know the details yet. The deadline for those negotiations to conclude is also Friday the 13th, but that deadline has no real teeth since the current continuing resolution to keep the government funded doesn’t expire until Jan. 15 of next year.

The bill setting policy for the Department of Defense, a bill that has been successfully passed and signed into law every year for more than 50 years, has not been passed by the Senate. The House finished its work in June. This bill was on the Senate floor when Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., brought up the resolution that finally granted the Senate majority the so-called “nuclear option,” changing Senate procedure to allow most executive branch and judicial nominations to be resolved with a simple majority vote.

And speaking of confirmations, that brings up another deadline. The Senate needs to confirm a new chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System by Jan. 31, 2014, the expiration of Chairman Ben Bernanke’s term.

But that’s not all Congress has on its “must pass” list. The current farm bill extension expired on Sept. 30, but that doesn’t have much impact. Nutrition programs continue, crop insurance never expires. But on Jan. 1, taxpayers meet the dreaded “dairy cliff.” This is when the administration, because of 60-year old laws aggies refuse to repeal, will have to take us back to 1950s era dairy policy and guarantee milk producers artificially high prices resulting in as much as $8 per gallon milk on a grocery store shelf near you. (Of course, another alternative is that Congress could simply repeal the outdated law and allow the market to set milk prices. But we know that is too logical of an action for this Congress to take).

The fiscal cliff deal made a permanent fix for the encroaching alternative minimum tax, but another hardy perennial, the Medicare doctor payment fix, was left out. This would reduce the payments to doctors under Medicare. While it was adopted as a budget control measure, it’s been legislatively “fixed” each year. That issue looms.

Also, there’s the tax extenders package. That’s the cat and dog mix of various special interest tax breaks benefitting everyone from NASCAR track owners to liquor distillers that gets tacked on to moving pieces of legislation every year. Except this year there doesn’t seem to be moving legislation to hitch the caboose to.

Remember, the House and the Senate currently plan to be together in Washington for only five days in December. Perhaps they will have a burst of efficiency and effectiveness by Dec. 20, but I’m not holding my breath.


By: Ryan Alexander, U. S. News and World Report, December 3, 2013

December 9, 2013 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Third Strike For The Hastert Rule”: Violence Against Women Act Win Shows Obama Has House GOP’s Number

The Violence Against Women Act passed the House today with bipartisan support. The renewal of the law represents a win for good public policy. It also marks another win for President Obama’s legislative strategy as he reaps the rewards of the conservative movement’s widening schism from the main stream of American thought.

Congress-watchers well remember the “Hastert Rule,” a guideline created by former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert that said nothing would reach the floor of the House that didn’t have the support of a majority of the majority; in other words nothing could pass that didn’t have the support of a majority of House Republicans. I think that we can safely say that the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act puts the final nail into the Hastert Rule’s coffin—it’s taken three strikes this year and now it’s out.

First 151 Republicans voted against the deal which resolved the tax portion of the so-called fiscal cliff (remember that the “cliff” was composed not only of tax hikes but also of spending cuts, the ones which go into effect tomorrow), while 85 voted in favor of it; then 179 Republicans voted against the Hurricane Sandy relief package with only 49 voting in favor; and now 138 Republicans have voted against the Violence Against Women Act while 87 supported it.

In all three cases the Republican-controlled House passed bills that had been roundly criticized by conservatives. Why? Because they were broadly popular and while individual GOP legislators are undoubtedly voting the way their constituents would like, the party’s leadership has to keep an eye on the broader picture. And what they saw was that the party’s base is on the unpopular side of issues that are poisoning the GOP brand. That’s why the GOP is doing even worse now than it was during the depths of their shutdown-induced toxicity in the mid-1990s, according to this week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. So the leadership made the smart choice—to get past toxic issues while giving their rank and file a chance to vote against them.

The problem for Republicans and House leaders is that Obama’s State of the Union address, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, which laid out his agenda for the year, is chock full of such items—ones on which he has the advantage of a significant cleavage between mainstream voters and conservatives.

How many more times will House leaders be forced to bring unpopular-with-their-caucus measures to the House floor? And is there a point at which conservatives rebel against it? The famous industrialist Auric Goldfinger was fond of the old Chicago maxim: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.” Will the right conclude that many more of these votes qualify as enemy action?


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, February 28, 2013

March 1, 2013 Posted by | Domestic Violence, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crisis To Crisis Management”: Congress’s Continual Game of Political Chicken

The proposal from the House of Representatives to push off the debt ceiling crisis for three months came with an ironic rhetorical frame: If the Senate will, in that time frame, pass a budget, we can start facing our long-term fiscal challenges instead of managing crisis to crisis. Oh, and if they don’t pass a budget all lawmakers will stop drawing salaries.

The basic idea that crisis to crisis management is the worst form of governance for our country is right on the money: Short-term continuing resolutions and other stop-gap measures ensure inefficiency because government agencies are hamstrung by their inability to plan beyond a few months. And absolutely the Senate should present a budget that lays out a vision for how to put our country on a path towards a healthy fiscal future. But, the politics over the debt ceiling in the last three years have been a leading contributor to the culture of avoiding hard decisions in favor of incendiary rhetoric we see in Congress today.

The debt ceiling debate in the summer of 2011 spawned the so-called “super committee” and so-called “fiscal cliff.” So, in the past two years we’ve seen the creation and failure of the super committee, an underwhelming fiscal cliff deal that paired special interest tax breaks with an increase to the rates for higher income individuals, and a short delay of the looming threat of sequestration, the across the board spending cuts that were supposed to motivate the super committee—and Congress—to come together to act. In the next two months we have another opportunity to avoid the sequester and the expiration of the current continuing resolution, the bill that funded government for six months at fiscal year 2012 levels in lieu of passing actual appropriations bills. And of course a debt ceiling vote is on the horizon.

All of these crises are manufactured. Those willing to put off raising the debt ceiling to make a political point are willing to hurt our economy and our standing in the world to make that same point.

At the root of these manufactured crises are a winner-take-all approach to the disagreements between and even within the political parties. At each crisis, Democrats and Republicans demand a total victory and a grand bargain only to end up placating one another with crumbs of a bad deal and promise to revisit the issues at the next manufactured crisis. Our nation cannot afford this continual game of political chicken. We cannot afford the impact of defaulting on our debts. Policymakers need to work together and come up with reforms to spending, taxes, and entitlements. No more political theater, no more back room discussions on grand bargains. It’s time for the hard work of legislating solutions to the nation’s fiscal challenges.

January 25, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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