Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Party of No, Supersized

I've said before that John Boehner and the House Republicans will have two models to choose from.  No, not confrontation vs. compromise -- they're going to be confrontational, end of story.  Certainly not cultural or intellectual dissent (not a choice, really).  No, the two models are 1993 and 1995.  Will Republicans attempt to enact their agenda, or will they use new gains to be the most hyped-up, amplified Party of No possible?

Party of No, it seems to me, is far more appealing to Republican Congressional leaders.  First of all, they really don't have much of a positive agenda anyway, and certainly not one with any hope of getting through the Senate and receiving a presidential signature.  I'm including health care repeal or other cuts as part of their "positive" agenda, but the truth is that there's very little there -- as Mark Schmitt points out, a lot less than in 1980 or 1994 (or, he might have said, a lot less than the Democrats had in 1986, 1992, or 2006 and 2008). 

I like Andrew Sullivan's formulation, too, that Republicans "have lost interest in policy - hence their running on ideological abstractions rather than actual proposals."  That makes it a lot easier to reject the president, rather than putting forward their own ideas.

What's more, in 1995 Republicans believed they were facing a personally and politically weak president who would surrender with the slighted push.  I don't have the sense that they're suffering from the same misjudgment this time around, and at any rate their failure to control the Senate makes it obvious that they aren't going to be able to dictate anything from the House conference.

Beyond that, they certainly believe that rejectionism was a complete success in both 1993-1994 and 2007-2008.  Why should they abandon it for a strategy that didn't work well in 1995-1996?

That leaves Party of No, whether they'll admit to it or not, as the most likely choice for John Boehner.

The only question is whether he can convince everyone to go along.  The potential obstacles?  Republican-oriented interest groups, many of which do have a real policy agenda, although some of that can be dealt with through normal logrolling and deal-making.  And Tea Party activists, who may not remember 1995, or understand the real limits of having only 47 Senators and no president -- and may or may not have a positive agenda.  Or, at least, the politicians who want to appeal to those activists, and may have strong incentives to portray whatever Boehner does as a halfhearted sellout. 

I'll do another post later about what all this means in terms of specific House action, and where the biggest danger points are for a Party of No strategy.  I should add right here, for what it's worth, that I'm still entirely unconvinced that rejectionism was responsible for very much of the good day that Republicans had on Tuesday, or for that matter their 1994 triumph, either.  But that doesn't matter all that much -- what does matter is that Republicans certainly believe that their strategy caused their victories.


  1. Occurs to me that the zeitgeist has not fully comprehended the trap that Boehner has entered by embracing the Tea Party. They expect him to reduce the deficit, and there are four primary ways to do so (Reduce defense spending, reduce/delay entitlement spending, raise taxes, and benefit from economic growth). Except for economic growth, Boehner's constituency hates all the drivers of their preferred outcome of lower deficits.

    So obstruction is Boehner's only logical choice, since actually attacking the deficit would involve measures that are deeply unpopular with his base (unless he knows some magic way to jumpstart outsized economic growth).

    Here's the conundrum that no one is talking about: what if, heaven forbid, the deficit is actually reduced by 2012? What if someone's taxes go up, or someone's entitlements are delayed, or some defense spending is cut, such that 2010's 1.2 T deficit is, I don't know, $800 B in 2012? What do you do, then, if you're Boehner? Celebrate? Celebrate what - new taxes, lower entitlements, lower defense spending? A real dilemma.

    Indeed, if I were advising Obama I would recommend he seriously consider allowing the Bush tax cuts to sunset, all of them, and take his chances on a slight decline in the recovery in exchange for a huge bite out of the deficit. Happy, now, Tea Partiers? No? Why not?

  2. The problem with that approach is that independents almost always blame the President for the state of the economy, rather than Congress. Furthermore, those actions would further alienate the progressive base. Basically, it wouldn't satisfy any of the voters Obama needs in 2012. It's going to be a rough couple of years for the President unless some miracle happens.


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