Thursday, August 1, 2013

House Budget Crack-Up

There's a lot of excellent commentary out there about the latest House Republican fiasco -- they had to pull an appropriations bill from the floor at the last minute yesterday because they didn't have the votes. As several have pointed out, the problem is that they were happy to vote for huge cuts in the abstract (in the House budget resolution) but not in the specific, in the actual appropriations bills. As I said, good analysis from several, including Brian BeutlerGreg Sargent, and Matt Yglesias.

I'll just add one bit that I don't think is getting quite enough emphasis. Remember, this is all about getting to 218. Republicans are trying to do that, essentially, with partisan bills -- which means they have to supply the bulk of the 218, perhaps all of it, on their own. And as everyone says, the big problem is that to satisfy the bulk of their conference they wind up with bills so extreme that they lose their own moderates.

But it's also true that even these bills, bills too extreme to pick up any moderate Democrats, bill so extreme that they lose moderate Republicans...also are not extreme enough to get all of the conservatives. That's what the reporting about Transportation-HUD says. See also: the vote on this appropriations bill, which lost 9 Republicans; or this one, where they lost 10. There are 234 Republicans in the House, but the cold hard fact is that on appropriations bills there are at least a handful who are probably out of reach.

At the very least, Republican whips have to focus a lot of energy on those who should be happiest with these bills. But that, presumably, could have the advantage (for the hard-liners) of moving things in their direction. To the extent they are just "no" votes, however, they not only lose whatever leverage they might have, but also reduce the effective size of the GOP majority...and make it more likely that nothing that conservatives like can emerge from the House. Let alone be enacted into law.

In other words, they are putting their own purity ahead of their policy preferences.

I'm not saying that's the whole story here, but it is a part of it.

For the larger story, just remember the Boehner rule: the House can (often, not always) manage to pass party-line partisan symbolic measures, but for substance, the Senate goes first.


  1. I think this is the crux of the matter:

    To the extent they are just "no" votes, however, they not only lose whatever leverage they might have, but also reduce the effective size of the GOP majority

    The GOP majority isn't that large. Granted it's larger than the majority Hastert had in the Bush years (222-229 Republicans), but it is much smaller than the 257 Democrats Pelosi enjoyed during the 111th Congress. Boehner only has 234 members. You can't govern with purely partisan moves when you have 10 or so members who refuse to vote for anything.

    Another way to put that? Boehner has ten members who always vote with the Democrats on appropriations.

    These right-wing members are acting as though they are in the minority. They would easily be able to vote against everything if only the Republicans in the House didn't have a responsibility to pass must-pass legislation. Boehner needs another 20 members in his caucus for his governing strategy to work.

    1. Boehner needs another 20 members in his caucus for his governing strategy to work.

      ...another 20 non-crazies, that is.

    2. The great thing is that this house makes the most obstructionist senate in history look like a bipartisan hippie love fest.

  2. If you start on the basis that this is "must-pass" legislation, you're already on the wrong track.

    We've seen for years what happens if Republicans go-along-to-get-along - they get consistently rolled by the gaping maw of Washington and its corrupt enablers on the other side of the aisle. It's a one-way ratchet. And unfortunately the ratcheteers control the Senate and Presidency, and want to keep turning the crank. The only responsible thing to do is push as hard as possible against every appropriations bill, even if that means breaking collegiality - the national interest is much more important.

    Now, it is possible to push too far. All political parties are coalitions. I often deride the RINOs as good-for-nothing, but it's not true - it would be a disaster if they teamed up with Pelosi to nod through the tax hikes and spending splurges that the party of the shiftless is so obviously aching for. But this kind of advice is no more than concern trolling when it comes from those who consistently show open contempt for the Republican Party, fiscal prudence, and America.

    1. "Go along to get along" applies to every Republican president since Coolidge, and every prominent Republican congressperson. You're basically unhappy with everything that Washington (and a lot of states) have done in the last 80 years. That's fine, of course, but considering that the US is still a decent place to live - more so than most other countries, and you sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a country where the shiftless have even more power than they do here - the apocalyptic tone seems out of place. The place isn't perfect by any means, but burning it down seems like an extreme reaction.

    2. I'll go along to get along with Geoff, :-). Besides, its only "concern trolling" if one is addressing the party in question (I don't think anyone is as this is not a GOP blog) and if one is expressing concern for said party (which I don't think anyone has precisely, it is more schadenfreude, although I think most people do feel that at least two healthy parties are essential for a reasonably well-functioning democracy).

    3. The only responsible thing to do is push as hard as possible against every appropriations bill, even if that means breaking collegiality - the national interest is much more important.

      In other words, the national interest depends on defunding the government, and if you want to fund the government, then you hate America.

      Have I captured all the nuances of your position?

    4. I wonder if the price Boehner is going to have to pay to keep his speaker job and pass a debt ceiling increase is to allow his caucus to force a government shutdown (get it out of their system) on the road to eventually passing a budget.

    5. Anonymous 12:26

      You and I seem to read this blog fairly regularly. I've seen people write fairly contemptuously of the Republican Party, especially when the party does something dumb. I seen things that you might consider not fiscally prudent (although austerity in a lax economy is not fiscal prudence, it's counterproductive). I have never seen anyone here say, "Gee, I hate America," or "I hope the Republicans lose because they want to strengthen America," or anything that could be interpreted as even remotely like that.

    6. @Anon 2:15:

      I don't think Boehner is at risk of losing his job as long as the Democrats control either the Senate or the White House. After all, in the end the House will need to pass a debt ceiling increase and some kind of appropriations (even if it's a CR). Whoever is speaker -- whether it be Speaker Boehner, Speaker Cantor, or Speaker Gohmert -- will need to find 218 votes for those bills that can also pass the Senate and be signed by the President. There's no way around that.

      Given that reality, who the heck would want the job of Speaker in this House? Whoever is in charge has to actually do some governing, so they'll be a target of the furthest right-wing of the party. Boehner and those who want his job are all best served by keeping him in power. Any more conservative usurper has to conclude that it's best to let Boehner take all the slings and arrows and preserve their own conservative credibility.

      The big showdown will happen if/when Republicans have unified government again. If that happens, Boehner could be replaced by a more conservative alternative. But he would also move sharply to the right, since he wouldn't need to compromise with any Democrats to get the needed work of government done.

    7. Speaker Gohmert? Please, my nerves!

    8. @Kal:

      Makes sense, and JB has argued this point before too. Yet all journalism on Boehner and much informed speculation from Hill journalists constantly state that Boehner is preoccupied with keeping the job, worried about it, and so significantly constrained. If it really were the case that you say, he should feel much freer to govern as is necessary to cannily strike deals with the Democratic Senate and Presidency.

    9. @Anon:

      What politicians perceive as reality and reality ain't ever exactly been similar. Boehner is just a guy, and being Speaker of the House is the single greatest accomplishment of his entire life. Of course he'll be paranoid about keeping his job, even if he doesn't really need to be.

      Plus he's also looking towards January 2017, when Republicans might control all of Washington again. He wants to have a long record of appearing to have done everything he can to fight the Democrats so he can keep his job once there is actual conservative legislation to pass and enact.

    10. Good points. You're right about the job security issue. Thanks. Still wonder if he'll find himself having to indulge his caucus on the budget issues in order to calm them down and get them to sanity on the debt ceiling issue.

    11. @Scott Monje:

      No, people don't say "I hate America." But they do express constant contempt for ordinary American people - i.e. the actual America. I think they pull off this intellectual feat by identifying America with the federal government.

      I stand by what I wrote.

    12. Well that's even more insulting than what you wrote before. Seems like you and the extremist Republicans don't care one whit for who actually suffers as long as you can rant and posture in utter blindness about a misguided "principle." Can't pass a farm bill, because poor people might get food from the government, and that violates your principle. Doesn't matter if they need the food or not. Can't do anything about healthcare, since Obamacare is slavery. Can't negotiate a budget--and probably extract long-term concessions from the Democrats--unless it defunds everything, because you need to maintain ideological purity. Those flawed notions are the *real* contempt. That's the *real* hatred for the people of America.

      I'll stand by that.

    13. How might we find this "Actual America" of which you speak? I do so tire of the uppity folk who live here in Pseudoamerica. Lead me to this glorious promised land full of patriots and heroes!

    14. @Anon 7:18:

      As Shakespeare would have never said, "I shall hateth myself cometh the morn," buuuuuuut care to share said contempt for ordinary Americans? First of all, care to prove there is even such thing, then to prove said ordinary American is slighted by expressions of contempt around here? I don't deny that some Americans are spoken about negatively, or some politically defined groups. Indeed, I do not deny that American political institutions and American culture in general come in for some very harsh criticism around here. But that's America for you, nothing more ordinary than that! We really despise each other, you know -- always have. Don't ever think we put up with each other out of love or even slightly warm regard, it's the money. Sometimes even that isn't enough, but usually it is. Of course, there isn't as much money as there used to be, so people are less inclined to keep there antipathies under wraps. Works the same way in families. Many people hate the very ground their siblings walk on, but family harmony helps to stay in the will.

  3. Seriously though. I know you folks don't walk around kicking puppies. But then someone will right something like this, and it drives me up a wall.

    1. Oh, idk; this isn't particularly the place to air it, since this isn't particularly a place that roused it, but I've heard things from "open-minded" people that made my skin crawl, I mean that revealed an attitude that made my skin crawl. Commenters here will go so far as to say they can't understand affiliating oneself with today's Republican Party, which, you know, that's how committed partisanship works a lot of the time. But I've heard intelligent, thoughtful people say, in so many words, that they can't imagine how anyone could sincerely hold politically conservative principles, and that anyone who does hold conservative principles more or less doesn't deserve to be part of rational discussions of the issues. That's a pretty screwed-up thing to admit to! And I have no doubt that there are plenty of people who are not baffled but explicitly scornful, and who say things about as nasty as "you can't be a liberal and a good citizen" -- like, you know, "you can't be a conservative and a good person." I have no idea what specifically Anon 7:18 is referring to, and as I said this place doesn't teem with contempt, but it's hardly irrational to respond to the claim that Team A is composed solely of bad people by deciding that a lot of members of Team B hold you in contempt.

    2. Yes. Fully agree. And any liberals who don't believe that (some) liberals treat conservatives with scorn and contempt fooling themselves.

      Part of this is that the partisan press deliberately misrepresents and exaggerates how much of this contempt is out there...I do believe that the GOP-aligned press does it more than the Dem-aligned press, but I'll readily admit that I don't know that for a fact. Regardless: part of it is real. No question about it.

    3. That's true. Just for myself, I know people are not personally cruel or evil; I try to be respectful (and not just because this is JB's house), but I lose my temper now and again. I look back with regret over most of the Bush years in that regard. I'll own it's partly tactical, but still.

      And thing is, I want at least a healthy "loyal opposition party." Skepticism is good. Cutting back is good. My metaphor is a tree, and to help a tree be really healthy, you've got to bust out the loppers and prune it from time to time. I don't think it needs to be uprooted, however.

      And I firmly believe that there were opportunities for pruning under Obama--fairly moderate with a desire for the Grand Bargain--but instead there is a fantasy about a Kenyan Anti-Colonist promoting Gay Agenda Socialism. It isn't like the ACA would have been more liberal if Republicans had been willing to deal.

    4. @Bitter Fig: that's fair. Just that it's easy to tell when oneself is just speaking from frustration but hard to tell when other people are just speaking from frustration.

      @JB: hm. so the press now plays up, or the respective presses now play up an atmosphere of irreconcilable differences at the deepest level of values, while a generation ago and no doubt even more so a generation before that the press strove in the opposite direction, towards a manufactured consensus, manufactured in part through the impression of a preexisting and stable consensus -- and portrayed the groups and people who expressed fear and contempt of the other side as bizarre deviations from the norm? Actually, I bet: first pretended they didn't exist; when forced to admit they existed pretended either -- if they were not especially powerful -- that they represented unexplainable aberrations, or -- if they were powerful -- that they were just as chummy and respectful (?) as the Establishmentarians; until it became impossible to pretend that, when they turned on them immediately and en masse.

      Is that story true, or true enough? I'm kind of just extrapolating from present behavior plus NetRoots and Tea Party attitudes about MSM. But that would represent an extraordinary collective decision to ignore what's "out there" for the sake of shaping what's out there. I mean, like the kind of decision that what my students when I teach Plato's Republic all immediately announce is completely incompatible with rule of, by, and for the people. ( -- which I guess is just a reminder that I've been lucky enough to teach privileged students who expect that their point of view will always be publically represented and respected, but anyway ... )

  4. Bitter Fig said, just above, that skepticism and cutting back are good. Sounds like something Rand Paul might say. It was Senator Paul who famously went on record and said he supports a Fed Govt of $2.5 T, or $1 T+ smaller than what we've got. He even put numbers to paper, which was nice, but also poignantly illustrated how practically impossible his objectives were.

    I think Jonathan's opening post does a good job illustrating the Scylla and Charybdis between which Boehner must navigate, though the situation may even be somewhat worse than Jonathan said: the budget hawks want cuts, but they want someone else to eat the resulting pain. (This was illustrated to our family after my wife wrote a letter to our small-time, Tea Party state rep. The form letter my wife got in response had two themes: 1) All the good pork our rep got for our county, and 2) All the good work our Rep was doing in the state capital to stop the pork. Inspiring stuff).

    If I may, while I think it is fine for liberals to revel in schadenfreude at the tight spot the 21st century Republicans are in (always a big fan of schadenfreude!), I also think its helpful not to overstate the larger importance of said schadenfreude.

    After all, in a multicultural nation with a strong tradition of individualism, we are almost all - at a certain level - Republicans. For evidence, look no further than this forum, and that unforgettable recent discussion about how all politicians are basically selfish assholes, which drew (as I recall) no opprobrium from this mostly-liberal audience. Perhaps one relevant difference between the (non-xenophobic) conservatives and the liberals is the extent to which each believes this mess is sustainable.

    So schadenfreude away, but also be thankful there aren't more of those conservatives, as that would arguably be a very bad sign...

  5. Anonymous: "No, people don't say "I hate America." But they do express constant contempt for ordinary American people - i.e. the actual America. I think they pull off this intellectual feat by identifying America with the federal government."

    In 2000, 2008, and 2012 a majority of "the actual America" voted either for a Democrat or for a party to the left of the Democrats. (In 2004, "only" 49 percent did so.) If you want to see contempt expressed for this "actual America" just read any conservative blog--especially just after the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

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