"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“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

“The GOP Is One Heck Of A Dysfunctional Family”: Republican’s Having A Lot Of Trouble Getting That Governing Thing Down

If you wonder why Congress is so feeble these days that it can’t even find a simple way to pass a transportation bill, look no further than Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who proffered a little resolution on Tuesday night to oust John Boehner from the speakership.

The move was quickly dismissed by Boehner loyalists as showboating by a second-term member, and Meadows himself said he might not even seek a vote on his own measure. His hope is to provoke a “family conversation” among Republicans. It’s a heck of a dysfunctional family. The GOP these days may have its advantages on the Lannisters of “Game of Thrones” fame, but it’s a very long way from the Brady Bunch.

Perhaps by crushing Meadows’s insurrection, which many of even the most rebellious right-wing Republicans thought was ill-timed, Boehner will strengthen his hand. The more likely outcome is that this resolution to “vacate the chair” will once again remind Boehner of the nature of the party caucus over which he presides. I use “preside” rather than “lead” precisely because his difficulty in leading these folks is the heart of his problem.

The House GOP (and this applies more than it once did to Senate Republicans as well) includes a large and vocal minority always ready to go over a cliff and always ready to burn — fortunately, figuratively — heretical leaders and colleagues. More important, a significant group sympathizes with Boehner privately but is absolutely petrified that having his back when things get tough will conjure a challenge inside the party by conservative ultras whose supporters dominate its primary electorate in so many places.

This means that Republicans have to treat doing business with President Obama and the Democrats as something bordering on philosophical treason. Yes, on trade, where Obama’s position is relatively close to their own, they will help the president out. But it’s very hard to find many other issues of that sort. Politicians of nearly every kind used to agree that building roads, bridges, mass-transit projects and airports was good for everybody. Now, even pouring concrete and laying track can be disrupted by weird ideological struggles.

The text of Meadows’s anti-Boehner resolution is revealing. He complains that the speaker has “caused the power of Congress to atrophy, thereby making Congress subservient to the Executive and Judicial branches, diminishing the voice of the American people.” Actually, Congress has done a bang-up job of blocking Obama’s agenda since Republicans won control of the House in 2010. How, short of impeachment, is it supposed to do more to foil the man in the White House?

Meadows also hits Boehner for “intentionally” seeking voice votes (as opposed to roll calls) on “consequential and controversial legislation to be taken without notice and with few Members present.” He has a point. But since so many Republicans are often too timid to go on the record for the votes required to keep government moving — they don’t want to be punished by Meadows’s ideological friends — Boehner does what he has to do.

On the other hand, Meadows’s charge that Boehner is “bypassing the majority of the 435 Members of Congress and the people they represent” is absolutely true.

But the logic of this legitimate protest is that Boehner should allow many more votes on the floor in which a minority of Republicans could join with a majority of Democrats to pass legislation, thereby reflecting the actual will of the entire House. If Boehner had done this with immigration reform, it would now be a reality. Boehner didn’t do it precisely because he worried about what Republicans of Meadows’s stripe would do to him.

Meadows’s move bodes ill for the compromising that will be required this fall to avoid new crises on the debt ceiling and the budget. Republicans already faced difficulties on this front before the “vacate the chair” warning shot, as Post blogger Greg Sargent noted Wednesday.

And Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), another Boehner critic, reacted to the resolution by invoking the Lord Voldemort all Republicans fear. Jones expressed the hope that “the talk-show hosts who are so frustrated would pick up on this thing and beat the drum.” It’s enough to ruin a speaker’s summer.

Republicans are talking a good deal about the threat to their brand posed by Donald Trump’s unplugged, unrestrained appeal to the party’s untamed side. The bigger danger comes from a Republican Congress that is having a lot of trouble getting that governing thing down.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 29, 2015

July 30, 2015 Posted by | GOP, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“What The Republicans Failed To Accomplish”: Vital Tasks The House Did Not Address Before Taking An Unnecessary Recess

Many House members were at the airport yesterday, desperate to begin their five-week vacation, when the chamber’s leadership called them back. An emergency bill to provide money for the humanitarian crisis at the Southern border had earlier been pulled from the floor because of objections from the hard right; now some Republicans wanted to try again.

“You can’t go home!” Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas said, according to the Washington Post. That would send a terrible message to President Obama: “You’re right, we’re a do-nothing Congress.”

Sorry, congressman. That message had already been broadcast long before the House tripped over its own divisions on the border bill. The failure of this Congress (principally the House) to perform the most basic tasks of governing is breathtakingly broad. Though members did manage to pass a bill overhauling the Department of Veterans Affairs, here is a catalog of the vital tasks the House was unable to accomplish before taking an unnecessary recess:

But there is one thing House Republicans did enthusiastically before packing their bags: They voted to sue the president for taking executive actions they disliked — actions that were necessary because Republicans failed to do their jobs.


By: David Firestone, Taking Note, The Editorial Page Editors Blog, The New York Times, August 1, 2014

August 2, 2014 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Overrated, Useless Fools”: Why This Congress Will Never Achieve Anything Significant

As I wrote last month and also several other times over the past five or so years, “comprehensive immigration reform” — defined as a bill making it possible for currently undocumented residents to earn legal status and/or citizenship — can’t happen now because Republicans control the House of Representatives, conservatives control the Republican Party, and conservatives oppose granting legal status to undocumented immigrants. It’s a very simple calculation, and most discussions of the political status of immigration reform could start and end with some variation on that explanation.

But people need something to talk about, and politicians need reasons to go on Sunday shows. Elected officials need to “signal” to important donors and interest groups that they are doing everything in their power to enact the preferred policies of those important donors and interest groups. There is really more incentive for Republicans to talk about immigration reform than to actually pass it. Obviously lots of Republicans do sincerely want immigration reform to pass. But those Republicans don’t have a majority in the House, and until that changes, immigration reform will be practically politically impossible.

Last month, Speaker of the House John Boehner said he was confident that immigration reform could pass this year. That confidence lasted a few weeks. By the end of last week, the GOP had settled on an adequate excuse for declining to pursue their recently announced immigration “list of principles”: They can’t do anything at all because they don’t trust President Obama.

Which, fine. It’s a pretty lame excuse, but Speaker Boehner was not going to say, “I don’t have the clout or the power to unilaterally force a plurality of xenophobes and cowards ensconced in safe white districts to support a major Democratic policy priority.” Republicans were going to blame Democrats no matter what.

The flaw in their excuse, obviously, is that it leaves the GOP open to the line Sen. Chuck Schumer used on Sunday: If Obama is the problem, then Congress can pass a reform bill that won’t go into effect until 2017, when there will be a new president.

“It’s been a tough week for immigration,” he said. “But all three, many of the Republicans have said the following — Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Paul Ryan, even Jim DeMint — they have said that they want to do immigration reform, but they don’t trust the President to enforce the law, particularly the enforcement parts. So there’s a simple solution.”

Unfortunately, coming up with a clever workaround to the arbitrarily chosen GOP excuse won’t change the fact that the arbitrarily chosen GOP excuse is only being used to distract from intractable political reality. Addressing the made-up problem won’t fix the actual one. Schumer gets points for “calling Boehner’s bluff,” but Boehner will not now be like, “well, fair point, you got me, now I guess we have to pass this bill.”

Still, it was a fun couple of weeks of once again debating whether immigration reform would pass soon! Perhaps members of Congress play this elaborate game — hyping major legislation, walking it back, calling out one another’s “bluffs” — mainly to keep the political class occupied.

It has become incredibly difficult even to pass the recurring omnibus bills — like the farm bill, which took a few years to make it through the House, and the transportation bill, which will likely cause Congress to melt down in acrimony and dysfunction once again later this fall — that Congress uses to keep the government funded and operating. The idea that new initiatives and major reforms might be possible with this Congress is just fantasy. Comprehensive tax reform? Immigration reform? “Entitlement reform”? Various politicians will claim, over the next few months, that all of those things and more could happen before the next Congress is sworn in. They will be wrong, but the political press, in need of something to talk about, will take the idea seriously for a while anyway.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, February 10, 2014

February 11, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Just A Reminder”: Congress, Sometimes You Guys Are An Embarrassment

We’re 15 days out from the expiration of our eighth stopgap — yes, our eighth stopgap — to extend funding for transportation infrastructure. The last long-term transportation bill ended in 2009, and here we are, three years later, with no replacement.

It looked, this week, like perhaps we had finally broken the impasse when 72 senators joined together to pass the Boxer-Inhofe transportation bill. But Hill staffers tell Politico that the House won’t take the Senate bill up before the end of the month. Which means, yes, a ninth transportation stopgap. A ninth bill that doesn’t give states any predictable framework in which to make long-term investments. A ninth failure, in other words.

Congress, sometimes you guys are an embarrassment.

And so long as we’re taking the dim view here at Wonkbook, let’s just be honest about it: Boxer-Inhofe won’t solve our transportation problems, either. It’s much better than nothing, of course. And it’s better than yet another stopgap. But both on the spending and funding sides, it’s inadequate.

On the spending side, it only lasts for two years — the House wants a five-year bill, as does the White House — and, at $109 billion, it’s only about two-thirds the size of the president’s budget request for infrastructure, which was, in turn, smaller than what most infrastructure experts thought was needed.

This is a bad time to do a half-measure on infrastructure. We have literally trillions of dollars in unmet infrastructure needs. We have massive unemployment in the construction sector. Materials are unusually cheap because of a depressed global economy. Borrowing is unusually cheap because we’re one of the few safe havens left in the global financial market. And it’s cheaper to repair an aging bridge today than rebuild a crumbled one 10 years from now. So waiting to do the bulk of our infrastructure passing a half-measure on infrastructure investment later is like waiting till after the big sale ends to buy your groceries. It’s just bad financial planning.

Further, as my colleague Brad Plumer reports, Boxer-Inhofe does nothing to stop the Highway Trust Fund, which is paid for by the federal gas tax, from going broke. There are all sorts of reasons the fund is going broke — more fuel-efficient cars, the gas tax isn’t indexed to inflation, etc — but the bottom line is that the primary mechanism we use to pay for infrastructure in this country is in crisis. President Ronald Reagan, you’ll recall, actually raised the gas tax to fund his infrastructure bill, and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) offered an amendment to index the gas tax to inflation in this bill. But that amendment was defeated, and so rather than actually fixing the Highway Trust Fund, we’re exhausting it, and patching the rest of the bill with one-time pay-fors and gimmicks. So the central problem in transportation funding — the problem that has arguably led to these nine stopgaps — will be left for another day.

Boxer-Inhofe is a lot better than doing nothing. It’s a lot better than another stopgap. And Sens. Barbara Boxer and James Inhofe deserve credit for actually moving a bipartisan infrastructure bill through the Senate. But it’s a reminder that, these days, even when Congress does get around to doing its job, it doesn’t do it particularly well.


By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post Wonkbook, March 16, 2012

March 19, 2012 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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