It turns out that cutting spending is difficult and unpopular. This and the recent House GOP farm bill fiasco again suggest House Republicans will struggle to pass major governing items without moderating and enlisting the help of Dems, rather than moving ever to the right in search of conservative votes. … One House GOPer even openly lamented the GOP leadership’s misguided priorities. Rep. Thomas Rooney of Florida wanted to get the farm bill done, telling the Post: “I would have loved to go home, especially to my district, which is mostly agricultural … and been able to be like, ‘It’s a done deal. We’re good.’” But here’s what actually happened:
Instead, Rooney found himself voting Wednesday on measures with such flashy titles as “Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act” and “Stop Playing on Citizen’s Cash Act.” There’s also the STOP IRS Act — STOP stands for “Stop Targeting Our Politics” — that would permit the IRS to fire employees “who take official actions for political purposes.” And there’s a plan to bar the IRS from implementing or enforcing any aspect of the 2010 health-care law — the 40th time in recent years that the House has voted to repeal, defund or otherwise deconstruct the legislation.
It’s in the conjunction of these two failures [the farm bill and the latest one] that you see a mortal threat to the practical existence of the Republican governing majority in the House.
That’s because if you can’t find 218 Republicans out of 234 to vote for a bill, the other option is to start with 201 Democrats and try to add two dozen Republicans. And in many ways, that kind of coalition makes more sense given that to become law a bill also needs to pass a majority-Democratic Senate and be signed into law by a Democratic president. A “Pelosi Plus” House bill, in other words, can actually become law whereas a Boehner Majority House bill is at best a bargaining ploy. Now normally that kind of legislation simply can’t move in the House. The party that holds the majority forms a cartel and blocks bills from coming to the floor that don’t have support in the majority caucus. Boehner has allowed select violations of this so-called Hastert Rule (though in practice the rule predates Hastert) but there’s at least a chance that he’ll be forced to suspend it wholesale throughout the appropriations process.
A relevant precedent for this, in some ways, could be seen in the 1981-82 congress that gave us the Reagan Revolution. Republicans won the presidency in the 1980 elections and secured a majority in the Senate, but Democrats still held the House. A large faction of conservative Boll Weevil Democrats were willing to support a lot of Reagan ideas, but that was far from a majority of the House Democratic caucus. But in what I think you’d have to consider a rare concrete example of a “mandate,” Speaker Tip O’Neill let conservative bills come to the floor and let the Democratic majority get rolled by a GOP-Boll Weevil coalition on a bunch of key votes.
The dynamics of a meltdown of the GOP majority would be different from that and so would the legislative outcomes. There won’t be an “Obama Revolution” if the Republicans get rolled, but there just might be bipartisan deals to replace sequestration and reform the immigration system. The Republican majority, in other words, may be nearly immune to electoral defeat thanks to favorable district boundaries—but it’s not immune to its own dysfunction.
Any political system where one party is “nearly immune to electoral defeat” is a broken one. Bernstein’s take:
I’ll just add one bit that I don’t think is getting quite enough emphasis. … [E]ven 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.
Kilgore’s two cents:
No wonder some conservatives want to make the debt limit/appropriations battle this fall “about” Obamacare. At least they know how to say “No!” in unison.
My take on the GOP’s latest nihilism here.
(Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty)