Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The House Leadership

I thought Pema Levy's post about blame for the debt limit mess was excellent -- with the important caveat that we're still waiting on a lot of the behind-the-scenes information that could help confirm what most of us suspect.

Levy's point is that the GOP leadership should have been preparing rank-and-file Members from the start for an eventual compromise, no matter what they were saying in public. After all, they knew that eventually the House was going to have to vote for a debt limit increase, one way or another (at least barring unilateral action by the president, which presumably wasn't the goal). So if things go wrong, John Boehner, and especially Eric Cantor, deserve the blame.

I think that the key evidence for this is in Mitch McConnell's plan to dump responsibility on the president, but to surrender on GOP-backed spending cuts. At the time, I interpreted McConnell's plan as primarily a warning to Republicans: if you don't cut your best deal with the Democrats, you'll wind up getting nothing, and still the debt limit will go up, because it eventually must. The question is: did Boehner (or Cantor) ever make that case in private to GOP Members of the House? Did they do anything to educate their conference on either the substantive or political realities of the situation? Perhaps we'll find out that they did, and that what we've been seeing in public is nothing more than really good play-acting. If not, however -- if House Republicans really don't understand the policy they're dealing with, or the political context -- then I agree that Republican leaders are very much to blame.


  1. You're assuming that, had Boehner or McConnell or Cantor properly "educated" their conference about the inevitability of raising the debt ceiling, the Tea Party back-benchers would have actually trusted that advice.

    I see no reason to assume that.

    More likely, the Tea Party freshmen would have just... ignored it. Just like they ignore economists on fiscal policy; scientists on climate policy; the CBO on health policy. They would have no trouble ignoring their party "leaders" if it goes against what they believe in their gut and what they have been telling (promising) their constituents.

    We are dealing with dangerously misinformed legislators, duly elected by dangerously naive citizens. The only solution is to get them out of office, as soon as possible.

  2. Along the same lines as Andrew, I think the lack of preparation clues us in to the fact that the GOP really believed everything it said during the campaign season leading to the 112th Congress.

    The media is likely to overthink the causes of this crisis in the coming weeks and months, but the simplest (and most accurate) answer is fairly obvious: the GOP fooled themselves.

  3. Now that we know the clip from The Town was when Ben Afleck says something a long the lines of "I can't tell you, you just have to trust me" the GOP leadership probably didn't tell them what the deal was.

  4. I saw something that Cantor had a meeting with the caucus (Monday? Tuesday? Late last week?) where he tried to explain reality to them, and they were having none of it.

    Of course, file this under "too little, too late, too much after you spent the last 30 months riling us up."

  5. I suspect that Boehner and Cantor have indeed tried to instruct the caucus on the political and economic realities, and that it didn't help any. It should be apparent by now that much of the Tea Party sees default as a net positive. It might cause some problems, but it will force Obama to spend a lot less money, and that will be worth it. (Yes, I know that Congress rather than the president is the one ultimately spending the money.)

    The only reason I think we'll be able to avoid the meltdown is because the Tea Party is ultimately a minority in Congress, and not really anywhere close to a majority. A deal will get passed with the 100 or so remaining moderate Republicans, plus as many Democrats as required, and no Tea Partiers.

  6. I think the markets give a clue about the lack of preparation. The broader market drop isn't especially noteworthy, but individual shares are doing fairly strange things. In particular, classic value plays (low Fwd P/E, low P/B, good brands) such as Office Max (OMX) yesterday and Jones New York (JNY) today beat (depressed) forecasts and saw their shares explode.

    I would imagine that if the Koch brothers' value hedge fund is on the wrong side of trades like JNY or OMX, they're none too happy with this brinkmanship. Surely the Republicans' deep-pocketed masters are not endorsing this madness?

    Or is that caucus not answerable to rich people anymore, as much as to Joe Tea Party Lunatic on the street?

  7. Looked to me from the Politico report on GOP dissension that the re-jiggered Boehner bill will end up passing, once the enforcers isolate the right reps for thumbscrewing (if even necessary now that the emoting and blustering, and the TP high water mark, have passed). The desire not to make things too easy for the twin enemy (the Dems and the Senate) may be enough in the end.

    But if someone has something concrete to suggest otherwise... well that'll be interesting.

  8. Interesting......I'm seeing conflicting stories about the state of affairs today.

    I see one from Johnathan Karl saying that Boehner said "get your asses in line" and that some conservatives are now following; reports from slower media (LA Times, Time, a few others) are saying Boehner's plan is dead in the water.

    Either there's significant movement this morning (helped possibly by some stories saying today's Dow is down because of no deal being reached {because financial reporters always need to explain the market every day}), and/or there's a lot going on we don't know for certain, even broad contours.


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