Thursday, July 28, 2011

Deliver Us From the Elements

Norm Ornstein, on the House vote today (my emphasis):
So Boehner and his leadership team are pulling out all the stops, putting his full prestige on the line, to get members to renege on their ironclad pledges. Every speaker has these moments when getting to a bare majority is excruciatingly difficult, and it requires offering inducements or simple begging. But a speaker can only go to the well once or twice to get his or her members to walk the plank. In this case, Boehner’s tactical maneuvers mean that he is asking two dozen or more of his colleagues to walk that plank in return for something that has no chance of becoming law. Instead, it is a vote to give him the barest amount of additional traction to cut a deal for a plan that will dilute even further the package that they are on record condemning for its weakness.
What matters now, I guess, is whether the Speaker in doing so is gently pushing the bulk of his conference towards accepting a compromise in the next round, or whether they will, as Ornstein fears, balk at that next step. Note, by the way, that there's an interesting switcheroo going on here.

Today's vote isn't a tough one for the extreme Bachmann faction, which gets to vote no to everything. That's going to be about 20 Members, even in a successful vote (indeed, my guess is that Boehner today either just barely succeeds or gets clobbered, perhaps even having the bill pulled if that's what the whip count says). They'll love it; they get to pretend that if only everyone had stuck with them and defeated Boehner then the White House would have had no choice but to go for whatever they wanted. Of course, that's delusional, but that's what they're selling and, as far as we can tell, what their constituencies (or their markets) are buying.

It's certainly a tough vote for the next group, something like 30-80 Republicans, who like to pretend that they're with the rejectionists but don't really have their hearts in it. Voting for Boehner today makes it harder for them to keep up that pretense, and leaves them open to charges of flip-flopping and breaking various promises.

The thing is that today's vote also isn't all that tough for the remainder of the GOP conference. They're basically voting for something they support; it may not be their ideal position, but it probably isn't all that far off. And since (if it passes) they'll be with almost the entire conference and against, if reports are correct, every single Democrat, they'll have a good deal of cover from RINO charges. Oh, the crazier of the Tea Partiers will still call it a sell-out vote and all, but it's not apt to be a really damaging one.

But then, after Boehner gets clobbered in the Senate, it'll be time to cut the real deal. And if that does happen, we can expect the swing group, that 30-80 that will be with Boehner today if it passes, to oppose the compromise (along with the Bachmann group of 20 or so). The tough votes, on that one, are going to be for the rest of the Republican conference. Voting yes on that one is going to very much be a tough for for them. Not only will they be accepting a substantive package that will be far from the Cut, Cap, and Balance bill that they passed last week, and the Ryan budget they passed earlier, but of course they're going to be voting with the hated Nancy Pelosi and against something like half of the GOP conference.

Indeed, one way to see what's happened over the last several months is a long, long process of inoculating those Republicans against the damage from a debt limit vote that they surely knew was eventually going to happen (barring, as always, the possibility that Barack Obama saves them from it by blowing through the debt limit on his own). They got to vote for the Ryan budget, CCB, and soon direct votes on Balanced Budget Amendments. The vote today isn't quite as good as those, but it does give them yet another example of when they voted with an almost unanimous GOP against a (probably) unanimous Democratic Party.

Of course, this also as meant that all of these mainstream conservative Republicans now have a lot of votes on their record which put them far to the right of the median voter, perhaps even in their own districts. But that, by now, is an old story; if there's one thing that's clear about the 112th Congress, it's that Republican Members are far more concerned about re-nomination than about the general election.


  1. inoculating those Republicans against the damage from a debt limit vote that they surely knew was eventually going to happen

    Again, Jonathan, I hate to be so cynical, but how can you say that the Tea Partiers "knew" that they would eventually need to vote to raise the debt limit? I mean, some of them believe (correctly in many cases) that the reason they were elected in the first place was to oppose a debt limit increase, under any circumstances. Voting for an increase destroys the whole rationale for their candidacy, and it destroys the connection they had with the angry, ignorant voters that swept them into power in 2010.

    As you like to note, members of Congress are normal people. They are often not experts on policy. They listen to their constituents. And their constituents are telling them that national default is a better option than "giving President Obama a blank check." So why would they vote for Boehner's plan, or any plan to increase the debt ceiling?

  2. Not the Tea Partiers -- I'm talking there about the half of the conference that will wind up voting for a compromise. They probably did know what was coming.

    I agree that it's very possible that many new Members didn't know what they were doing, and the Bachmann caucus didn't care.

  3. Re "the rest of the Republican conference", I finally identified someone who speaks for moderate House Republicans: Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), co-chair of the Tuesday group.

    As of 7/23, she wants "to put an end to runaway borrowing by the federal government", so she doesn't even want a debate on the debt ceiling. The whole thing makes me gag.

  4. After Politico's article on what happened in the Republican meetings, I think it is fare to say that most Republican's know they need to raise the debt ceiling. However, the 20 Bachmann/Tea Party loyalists are a problem.

    I still think some Democrats are needed for Boehner's plan to pass the House.

  5. "... Republican Members are far more concerned about re-nomination than about the general election..."

    And far, far more concerned about either of those than about the well-being of the United States.

  6. "And far, far more concerned about either of those than about the well-being of the United States"

    Indeed, that's how the terms OUGHT to translate. General election ought to equal general welfare in a healthy democratic republican polity in which, to paraphrase Andrew Jackson, the whole of the people will not vote perversely against its own good. According to Jackson, they/we might make mistakes, but would always get things right in the end. If, however, you're convinced that Satan or some reasonable facsimile is the lord of this world, and that the light of freedom can be lost in a generation unless valiant patriots go against the current, etc., etc., then the true national general interest and the minority view are the same: Getting right with the far right is true patriot love American-style.

    Before we dismiss the TPers as a mere collection of fanatics, lunatics, hypocrites, opportunists, and admitted enemies of the state, if we want to understand them rather than just deride them, we have to acknowledge that, as marble-mouthed, reality-distant, and downright dumb as many of them seem, there is an alternative, internally consistent political-economic praxis that they are seeking to implement, that many of them believe has been historically tested and proved, that squares with a version of common sense, and that may appeal to even more fundamental, possibly even unconscious needs. Their economics and their psyches both tell them that punishment must come before progress, before progress itself can be anything other than a false promise, a temporary palliative at best, much more likely vice on the road to the Gulag/perdition.

    The final acceptance of necessary punishment is what they believe really happened in, for instance, the Reagan-Volcker Recession, which those of them who possess an understanding of history understand as the cathartic end to more than a decade of social-political-economic-moral failure, the bill finally coming and being paid - if not in full. Full payment, if "we" can bear it, is what the TP is supposed to be about, even if it can't quite say so explicitly, but instead has to inch up to the admission (DeMint, Broun) If we can't bear it, they believe, we're doomed - so almost anything they do is justified.

    At a certain point this viewpoint does or can become insane, or anyway purely ideological, terms which in the American tradition are almost the same thing, but it's a lot easier to play defense than to articulate and advance a positive alternative.

  7. Isn't CCB popular with the median voter?

    Don't the Republicans just need to sit out the Reid deal, if it comes to that?

  8. "The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."

    Senator Barack Hussein Obama, 2006


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