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“Hey, Boehner; Show Some Stones For Once”: The Right Wing Is Toothless And Congress Is Essentially Leaderless

So here’s something I’ve often wondered over the last few years. What exactly would happen if John Boehner bucked the right-wingers in the House? You know—if he gave us one of those heroic Hollywood moments that we so long for in this sail-trimming city and gave a big speech about how he was putting principle ahead of politics and the consequences be damned.

You know what I think would happen? If, say, he followed Mitch McConnell’s lead and allowed a vote on a clean DHS-funding bill? After all the dust settled—nothing. Oh, the dust would fly to the heavens for a few days. Tea Partiers would scream about his betrayal. Rush Limbaugh and all the rest of them would fulminate. There’d be a few breathless stories about how his speakership was in mortal peril. And then, something else would happen in the news cycle, the intoxicating effect of the drug of munity would wear off, and we’d be back to exactly where we were before the dust went skyward.

We have a dysfunctional legislative system, and one of the hallmarks of a dysfunctional system—indeed the main hallmark of a dysfunctional system—is that no one is held accountable for anything they do. And there’s no reason to think Boehner would be held accountable by his right wing.

First of all, they don’t have the votes to oust him. In his last speakership election, 25 Republicans voted against him. That’s a chunk, but it’s a small chunk. And besides, who are they going to replace him with? Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who seems not able to count noses and who isn’t particularly well liked by his GOP colleagues? Majority Whip Steve Scalise, now branded as a white-supremacist sympathizer? One doesn’t expect much of today’s GOP, but I doubt very much that even this hardened assemblage would want to be led by a man with that charge hanging around his neck.

So the whole business is ridiculous. And in fact, if you look closely at the record, you see that Boehner has bucked his right wing. Although “bucked” isn’t really the right word, since to buck means to resist with some show of strength. Boehner never does that. What he does is that he hews to the right-wing line rhetorically for as long as he possibly can, and then, when it’s two minutes til midnight and it’s obvious to everyone that he has to bend, he bends. He did it on the debt ceiling. He does it on budget questions. And there’s always a great deal of sturm and drang, but soon enough, it’s back to business.

Think here about the famous Hastert Rule, that a Republican leader can’t bring anything to the floor that doesn’t have the support of a majority of the Republican majority. This has come up a number of times in the last four years, and always the line is: Oh my God, he can’t break the Hastert Rule! Dare he break the Hastert Rule? His speakership is in grave jeopardy if he breaks the Hastert Rule! No, Lord, not the Hastert Rule!!

Well, he’s broken the Hastert Rule three times. The first time was on the fiscal cliff negotiation at the beginning of 2013. On that one, 85 House Republicans voted for the compromise bill that emerged, and 151 of them voted against it. The second time was on Hurricane Sandy relief, which happened just a couple of weeks after the fiscal cliff vote. That time, 49 GOPers voted for the relief, and 179 against. And the third came a little more than a month later—two years ago tomorrow, in fact—when the House passed a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. That time, 87 Republicans voted aye, and 138 nay.

So look at that record. In two months’ time, Boehner violated the allegedly inviolate Hastert Rule three times. And what happened to him? Well, we’re still calling him Mr. Speaker, last I checked. The right wing has not mutinied. And in fact the dark little psychological secret is that the vast majority of them have no interest whatsoever in mutiny. It’s far better for business for them, back in the home districts, to be able to scream betrayal and present themselves to their rabid constituents, the kind who just might go organize themselves to find a primary challenger to run against them, as the true defenders of liberty against all the sell-outs and ideological harlots they have to contend with on a daily basis, Boehner included. Gower Champion couldn’t choreograph it any better.

If I’m right about all this, and I am, then the question is why Boehner can’t, just once, show some stones and say, at 10 or 15 minutes til midnight rather than the usual two, “Sorry, we’re gonna do the reasonable thing here, and save this other fight for another day?” Well, some have argued that it may be in this case that he doesn’t actually know whether he has the votes. But I think that’s a reach. He’s got 245 Republicans. There are 188 Democrats, presumably all of whom would vote for a clean bill. So he’d need about 30 Republicans to back a clean bill. If he can’t get a mere 15 percent of his caucus to vote for a clean bill, maybe he’s got no business being speaker anyway. That would mean breaking the Hastert Rule, but as we’ve seen, he’s paid no price for that in the past.

And look at what happened in the Senate after McConnell decided to be reasonable. The vote was 98-2! The holdouts were Jim Inhofe and Jeff Sessions. Ted Cruz voted for the clean bill! Mike Lee! Joni Ernst and all the new red-hots. McConnell called the radicals’ bluff, and they folded. I say there’s every reason to think that roughly the same thing would happen in the House.

It’s often said in Washington that Congress is held captive to the hard right. But that’s not it. Boehner could break that hold if he wanted to. So it’s not really the radicals who are to blame, but Boehner’s refusal to be their leader and tell them “this is the way it is.” That’s the one thing, as their leader, he’ll never do. You know—lead.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February 27, 2015

March 1, 2015 Posted by | Dept of Homeland Security, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Do Nothing House Of Boehner”: Even Before the Shutdown, House Republicans Couldn’t Get Anything Done

For House Republicans, shutting down government has one distinct upside: It obscures how hapless the party has become at the basic work of governing the country.

In the months before they turned out the lights in Washington, House Republicans were in disarray. Hardliners were threatening Speaker John Boehner’s job over immigration reform. Moderate Republicans were balking the spending cuts that would actually be required to implement Paul Ryan’s budget. Trying to get something – anything – accomplished, GOP leaders went on a fishing expedition for Democratic votes on the Farm Bill. And when that effort collapsed, even the fallback position – intended to unite conservatives – ended up sparking a feud between House extremists and even extreme outside groups like the Heritage Foundation.

Here, a recap of the chaos that reigned in the House of Boehner:

Immigration Reform

In June, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a “path to citizenship” for undocumented workers. It is clear that, were it put to a vote in the House, the reform would pass – with a majority of Democratic votes and a small bloc of Republicans.

These days, House conservatives fetishise the “Hastert Rule” – which is not actually a rule but an often-respected convention that only bills supported by a majority of the Republican conference receive a vote on the floor. Throughout this Congress, however, Boehner has used big, bipartisan votes in the Senate as a get-out-of-Hastert-free-card. Over the objection of a strong majority of GOP members, Boehner steered passage of the Senate’s Fiscal Cliff compromise, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and $50 billion in Hurricane Sandy relief.

Anti-immigration hardliners in the House are determined that the Senate immigration bill, adopted on a vote of 68-to-38 in the upper chamber, not join this list. And they have threatened to topple Boehner if it does. This summer, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) gathered more than 50 signatures to call a “special conference” on immigration. It was a show of force. The same conference procedure is all that’s required to force a new leadership election in the middle of a congress. Boehner got the message: The Speaker soon declared that under no circumstances would an immigration bill opposed by a majority of House Republicans reach the floor.

If King’s parliamentary threat was subtle, Dana Rohrabacher’s anything but. In June, the California Republican said that if Boehner broke the Hastert Rule on immigration “he should be removed as Speaker” for his “betrayal of the Republicans throughout the country.” Rep. Tim Salmon (R-Arizona) echoed that threat – and expanded it to the rest of the leadership team. “There’s a great unrest,” he said. “We’ve already had several pieces of legislation that have gone out of this place with majority Democrats and minority Republicans. There gets to be a proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. A lot of members in the conference,” he said, “would be frustrated to the point of seeking new leaders.”

Transportation Funding

The Paul Ryan budget has long been criticized as a fantasy document. Former Reagan budget director David Stockman, for one, slammed it in an interview with Rolling Stone for proposing “absurd rollbacks in discretionary spending” that House members “would never vote for, on a program-by-program basis.”

The fate of the Transportation Housing and Urban Development spending bill known as THUD proved Stockman’s point. Working to bring the austere spending caps required by Ryan’s budget to reality, the GOP bill slashed transportation funding by $4 billion. The proposal cut development block grants to cities nearly in half, and cut funding to highways, bridges and tunnels by some 15 percent.

THUD’s reception in the conference in July was onomatopoetic. For the House GOP’s small bloc of moderate and urban members, the cuts were simply too great to swallow. Facing a “bleak” vote count, leadership was forced to pull the bill.

House Appropriations chair Hal Rogers – an inveterate cigar puffer who runs one of the last smoke-filled back rooms in Washington – slammed his own conference. “With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted three months ago,” he said, adding: “A good number of members who had supported the Ryan budget ideals, when it came time to implement it with specific cuts, were unwilling to support it. They abandoned ship.”

The Farm Bill

The Farm Bill has long been a bastion of bipartisanship in the House. The same legislation funds subsidies for agribusiness as well as the nation’s food stamp program – uniting a strong rural/urban coalition from both parties.

In July, Republican leaders looked to Democrats for help passing a bipartisan bill, and believed they’d rounded up 40 votes – despite nearly $20 billion in cuts to food stamps that would have kicked nearly 2 million Americans out of the program.

The move angered House hardliners who were demanding nearly $40 billion be slashed from nutrition funding. And, in a bit of mischief, extremists who had no intention of supporting the final bill, began voting to lard it up with a slew of amendments – including provisions that would allow states to drug test recipients of food aid and that would require able-bodied food stamp recipients to work – despite an economy that’s not producing jobs.

The measures grew more and more extreme, and finally Democrats bolted en masse – leading to an embarrassing losing vote, 195-to-234, on the House floor. Nancy Pelosi called it “amateur hour.”

Regrouping, House Republicans resolved to pass a farm-only bill. Splitting the farm funding from food stamps had long been a goal of outside groups like the arch-conservative Heritage Foundation. And House conservatives appeared confident that their vote would leave them in the good graces of the group’s much-feared elections scorecard.

But the reason that Heritage advocated the split was to break what Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham calls “the unholy alliance between Republicans from square states and urban Democrats” who vote for the joint bill, which Heritage considers a “bad pile of policy.”

Instead of applying their avowed small-government principles to their new, agriculture-only farm bill, House Republicans actually made it worse. In the failed bipartisan bill, lawmakers were going to create a new price floor for farmers – meaning that if crop prices fall from their historically high prices, taxpayers would be on the hook to make up the difference. In the bipartisan bill, this provision would last only five years. In the Republicans-only bill, it never expired. “It was the same bad farm bill we’d just been against,” says Needham, “but worse because it is permanent law. And we were still opposed to it.”

This was not the message that House hardliners wanted to hear. “We went into battle thinking they were on our side,” South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney fumed to reporters, “and we find out they’re shooting at us.”

Outraged that hardliners were being called to account on their own wasteful Washington spending, the chairman of the caucus of the most conservative members in the House, the Republican Study Committee, barred Heritage from the group’s weekly meetings – which Heritage had attended since the early 1970s.

“Some members,” says Needham, “were very, very upset at us over our opposition to farm pork.”


By: Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone Magazine, October 8, 2013

October 13, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Last Phase Of The Kabuki Dance”: John Boehner’s Phony New Ransom Demand That He’s Been Saving

Boxed in by his caucus’ demand to defund Obamacare on one side, and a steeled White House on the other, House Speaker John Boehner seems ready to throw in the towel and enter the last phase of the Kabuki dance he’s staged for the benefit of his insolent Republican base.

Of course, he won’t say this, and his recent comments at a fundraiser in Idaho appear on their face to be a doubling down, but, when read correctly, they actually suggest the opposite. “I’ve made it clear that we’re not going to increase the debt limit without cuts and reforms [to mandatory entitlement spending] that are greater than the increase in the debt limit,” he said yesterday.

This entitlement demand is mostly new. While we got hints that Boehner might put Social Security and Medicare on the table back in early July, we’ve hardly heard a peep about it since. Instead, Republicans have been focused defunding Obamacare.

As Josh Barro writes, insisting on entitlement cuts is often Boehner’s last move before capitulation, because he knows it’s a ransom demand that will never be paid. He did it in December, when spokesperson Michael Steel used almost the exact same words: “Any debt limit increase would require cuts and reforms of a greater amount.” (The next month, the House voted overwhelmingly to bypass the debt ceiling and got none of those cuts.) And Boehner did it 2011. That time, he won the overall battle, but he still didn’t get any entitlement cuts.

Cutting the safety net is anathema to Democrats, and in the unlikely scenario that they’d do it, they certainly aren’t going to rush it through in the perhaps 15 legislative work days Congress has before it hits the October debt ceiling deadline. Boehner knows this.

And he’s done nothing to suggest he’s serious about entitlement cuts. There was a brief, peculiar moment this spring when the White House not only was willing to talk social safety net reform, but actually put cuts to Social Security in their budget. And Democratic congressional leaders suggested they’d deliver enough votes to pass something. What did Boehner do? He rejected the proposal out of hand, sight unseen, and called it ”no way to lead and move the country forward.” (That was basically the White House’s expectation all along, they claimed when liberals threatened mutiny.)

If Boehner’s entitlement demand was an empty threat in 2011 and 2012, and he didn’t take up his best chance at it in 2013, then it has to be even more of a bluff today as the landscape has titled decidedly against Republicans, MSNBC’s Suzy Khim notes. The deficit is falling fast and a clear majority of Americans opposed to defunding Obamacare, according to a new Kaiser poll out today, so the White House holds most of the cards. Both they and Boehner know that a government shutdown or default will be worse for Republicans than for Democrats, so this time the president is refusing to negotiate with the hostage takers.

So now, all that’s left is for Boehner to somehow bring his base along. He doesn’t necessarily need their votes, but he needs to drop the pitchforks for moment. Brian Beutler previews how it may go down:

Boehner introduces legislation that both increases (or extends) the debt limit and includes some goodies for conservatives that make the bill a non-starter with Senate Democrats and the President (maybe a year-long delay of the individual mandate — let your imaginations run wild); that bill fails on the House floor; everyone panics; faced with no better option, Boehner breaks the Hastert rule, puts a tidy, Senate-passed debt limit bill on the floor, and we all dress up as Speaker Pelosi for Halloween.

Of course, Beutler notes, plenty of things could go wrong. For instance, Boehner could decide that he’ll refuse to break the Hastert rule (meaning he won’t put anything on the floor that isn’t supported by a majority of Republicans) under any circumstance.

He’s done that when it comes to immigration reform, where he could pass a bill tomorrow if he were willing to use Democratic votes. He knows that every time he breaks Hastert, he enrages the Republican base a little bit more, so it’s possible that he’s been saving it up for this moment, which he must have known would come.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 28, 2013

September 1, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Breaking Point”: With No Light At The End Of The Tunnel, John Boehner Is Losing Control

Trust between John Boehner and his Republican Caucus members has worn so thin that he’s been forced to swat down rumors (again) this week that he’s retiring, while conservatives worry the speaker is plotting to pull a fast one on them in the immigration reform debate.

Of the 234 Republicans in the House, just 20 percent reliably support the speaker, according to a recent Washington Post analysis. And a new poll shows that among Republican voters overall, just 37 percent think GOP leaders are taking the party in the right direction, while 52 percent say leadership is going the wrong way. Compare that to 72 percent of Democrats who favor their party leadership’s approach. And all this comes on the heels of the Farm Bill debacle, the latest in a string of legislative misjudgments for Boehner and his leadership team.

But nowhere is the divide between leadership and base more apparent than on immigration reform, where conservative House members and outside activists are now worried that Boehner will actively deceive them through procedural trickery to pass his alleged ”amnesty” agenda. Never mind that it’s not even clear Boehner really wants a comprehensive bill passed. He said Sunday that immigration isn’t his top priority (though he also said, “If I come out and say I’m for this and I’m for that, all I’m doing is making my job harder”). And never mind that Boehner has repeatedly pledged to stick to the “Hastert Rule,” the informal rule that nothing be given a vote unless it already has support from a majority of Republicans.

But some House conservatives are convinced that Boehner is planning a secret “gambit to save [the] amnesty agenda,” as the conservative news site TownHall explained yesterday. When the House and Senate pass different versions of the same bill, lawmakers meet in a bicameral Conference Committee, where they hash out the differences and produce a single final bill. The Senate has already passed a bill with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The House has not passed anything, in part because conservatives fear that Boehner will use it as a backdoor way to introduce “amnesty” into the final bill.

TownHall explained that “the worry among Capitol Hill conservatives was that Boehner would take any House-passed bill with the word ‘immigration’ in it and set up a conference that would produce a bill with the trappings of compromise,” but would really be something unacceptable to the right. Conservative firebrands like Rep. Steve Stockman and Steve King have already raised the alarm. Ann Coulter told Fox News, “If they pass a bill that does nothing but enforce e-verify, does nothing but enforce the fence, it will go into conference with the Senate and it will come out an amnesty bill.” “Ann Coulter got it exactly right,” an unnamed senior aide to a conservative lawmaker told Breitbart News. “We are scared to death of what we figure is already Boehner’s end game.”

What these conservatives seem to miss is that the House would still need to pass whatever comes out of the conference committee. And the only way a pathway to citizenship will pass after the conference, as now, is if conservative Republicans allow it, or if Boehner is willing to break the Hastert rule and let it pass with Democratic votes. But he’s already said: “For any legislation, including a conference report, to pass the House, It’s going to have to be a bill that has the support of the majority of our members.”

If Boehner went back on that pledge, he’d face open revolt in his caucus, just as he would if he broke it now to bring the Senate bill up for a vote (which would likely pass with Democratic votes). Boehner has also so far done everything he can to avoid a revolt, considering his speakership would be on the line, and there’s no reason to think he’d be any more willing to risk it in a few months, after a conference committee, than he is now.

Perhaps it’s that conservatives don’t trust themselves to recognize secret “amnesty” in a conference bill. Breitbart’s Matt Boyle warned that the report would only “get a short amount of time for actual review, and votes would be whipped up and sold using talking points just like how the Senate bill passed,” as if talking points are some kind of Jedi mind tricks. But if a conferenced bill contained a pathway to citizenship and they vote for it, that’s on them, especially given their “read the bill” rhetoric.

Worse yet for Boehner, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Immigration reform will come to a head after the August recess, just as the debate ramps up on the debt ceiling, another issue which will inevitably pit Boehner against his rank-and-file. Maybe retirement will start to sound like a pretty good idea.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, July 23, 2013

July 24, 2013 Posted by | John Boehner, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans, All Talk, No Action”: No House Alternative, No Conference Committee, No Attempt At Finding Common Ground

Without a hint of humor or shame, the Republican National Committee issued a press release this morning accusing President Obama of being “All Talk, No Action” when it comes to the “Hispanic Community.” No, seriously, that’s what the RNC said.

Someone at the RNC’s communications office probably should have thought this one through a little more, since, when it comes to issues important to Latino voters, it’s the lack of “action” from congressional Republicans that’s proving to be so problematic.

Indeed, when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform, which is facing long odds in the face of fierce opposition from the House GOP, the question is whether these Republican lawmakers are prepared to do anything on the issue. National Review‘s Jonathan Strong reports they may not (via Greg Sargent).

Speaker John Boehner wants to pass a series of small bills dealing with immigration reform piece by piece, but it’s not clear whether 218 votes, the required number for passage, will be there for any of them.

Top Democrats are already signaling they’ll oppose the various bills being prepared by the GOP leadership, and conservative Republicans, especially, are wary. Many Republicans will prefer to simply vote against any bill, even if they agree with elements of the legislation, just to prevent Boehner from going to conference with the Senate. Such a conference, many conservatives fear, could lead to a consensus bill that includes amnesty.

When it comes to the future of the policy, this is obviously important. House Republican leaders don’t intend to consider the bipartisan Senate bill, but they also don’t want to do nothing. Boehner & Co. figure they can at least put a positive face on failure by instead taking up elements of immigration reform piecemeal.

But Strong, whose sourcing among Republicans on Capitol Hill is excellent, is reporting that rank-and-file House Republicans aren’t even willing to go this far. Indeed, they’ll even oppose measures they like for fear that they’ll go to a conference committee and become slightly more progressive after negotiations with the Senate Democratic majority.

It’s easier, they figure, to just kill every element of immigration reform and hope the electoral consequences aren’t too severe.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, there’s a good reason for that. This is the strategy outlined just last week by Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and National Review editor Rich Lowry — two of the most influential Republican voices in media — who co-signed an editorial urging House Republicans to put “a stake through” immigration reform’s “heart.”

More specifically, they urged GOP lawmakers should do literally nothing on the issue — no House alternative, no conference committee, no attempt at finding “common ground.”

It appears the advice was well received.

And so this once again puts the Speaker in an awkward position, as it sinks in that many in his own caucus prefer inaction — and he’s already committed to the so-called “Hastert Rule” that effectively gives these far-right House members a veto power over which bills reach the floor.

What was that the RNC was saying about “All Talk, No Action”?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 16, 2013

July 17, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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