We’ve all seen times when Congressional leaders have to entice rank-and-file Members to make hard votes because the party — or even the nation — needs it. But what we’re seeing now in the House is something highly unusual: Republican leaders are pushing members to take a tough vote for (as far as I can tell) no reason at all.
That’s the real story of the Paul Ryan budget battle. Last night it barely squeaked through his own committee by one vote, after defections by two conservatives who said it didn’t cut spending enough. And that’s just conservatives. Moderates, too, may find it very difficult to vote for a budget which threatens to zero out large sections of the United States government (something which even Republican voters don’t want).
And yet…this isn’t a vote that has to happen. This isn’t comparable to TARP, where the Bush administration surely knew that a vote was unpopular but were willing to press ahead anyway because they believed that the economy depended on it. Nor is it comparable to the Affordable Care Act: Even if Nancy Pelosi knew she was risking her majority over it, Dems were enacting a law they’d been fighting for her entire lifetime.
Both of those, of course, became law — but if the Ryan budget passes the House, what happens next is…nothing. No Senate vote. No Congressionally-passed budget resolution. Nothing. And Ryan, and Speaker John Boehner, surely know it.
It is, as Stan Collender has been saying, a campaign document, nothing more. And yet it’s a campaign document that Tea Partiers don’t seem to want, and one that will saddle Members in competitive districts with easy-to-attack positions. Nor does this appear to be something that Mitt Romney wants to emphasize as he shakes-and-erases his “severely” conservative programming for his coming general election persona.
The whole thing is really rather mysterious. To tell the truth, I can’t really think of any good precedent: a vote on something that neither the party’s conservative or moderate wings wants to take on something that has no chance of advancing beyond that chamber. But Boehner and Ryan are asking Republican members to once again stick themselves with positions that you’ll see in Democratic attack ads all the way through Election Day. Which raises the question: When the bill comes to the floor next week, will rank and file Republicans really take the Ryan plunge?