A number of folks have been observing an interesting dynamic among House Republicans: After spending years attacking Democrats for failing to produce a budget, the fact that Senate Dems have done just that has put them in a political bind. Brian Beutler explains:
Instead of promptly appointing negotiators to convene a so-called conference committee and iron out the differences between the wildly different House and Senate budgets, House Republicans are eager to either return to the smoke-filled back rooms of legend, or kill the budget process altogether.
“We want to go to conference when we feel we have a realistic chance of getting an agreement,” Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s top budgeter, told reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday, saying he wants members of both parties to take a detour and agree to a pre-conference “framework” before resuming formal negotiations. [...]
To explain the about-face, consider what happens if conferees begin meeting and negotiating right away. In this phase of regular order, leadership has less control over the course of events, and pretty much everything is majority rule. Democratic negotiators will be able to relitigate the fight they won in the election. They’ll agree to entitlement spending cuts. They might even reluctantly embrace a provision in President Obama’s budget — chained CPI — that would among other things slow the growth of Social Security benefits. But only if Republicans agree to ditch the anti-tax absolutism.
Republicans would thus be forced to choose between agreeing to new taxes and triggering a huge conservative revolt; or exacerbating the public’s sense that their party is pathologically unable to compromise.
That’s true, but this is particularly interesting when you look at it through the prism of Paul Ryan’s apparent 2016 ambitions. Just after the 2012 election, observers already began pointing out that much of what Ryan does in the House will be done with an eye towards maintaining credibility with conservatives, so he can run for president in 2016. As Politico put it at the time, Ryan “can’t sign onto any agreement that angers the tea party, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist or pro-business groups like the Club for Growth.”
And so Democrats will continue pounding Ryan, demanding that he enter into budget negotiations, in the full knowledge that appearing to be willing to compromise with Dems would damage Ryan with the GOP base, which opposes compromise with Dems at any cost.
To hear Dems on the Hill tell it, they are looking forward to this dynamic being exacerbated when the debt ceiling battle approaches. There will be a great deal of pressure on the House GOP leadership — from opinion leaders and the business community — to reach a deal to raise it. Indeed, John Boehner has explicitly said that Republicans have no intention of risking “the full faith and credit” of the U.S. government, an admission that Republicans can’t and won’t use the threat of default as leverage.
But conservatives may demand a showdown over the debt ceiling, which could put Ryan in a tricky spot. Either he signals a willingness to raise it, which could damage him among conservatives and GOP primary voters, who have been led to believe that staging big standoffs around the debt ceiling is the way to defeat Big Government. Or he holds out against compromise, which could win him plaudits on the right but could make him look uncompromising and ideologically extreme to moderate voters and opinion leaders.
In other words, at a time when the prospects for GOP flexibility on fiscal matters already looks remote, with Republicans remaining ideologically tethered to Ryan’s fiscal vision, add his apparent 2016 ambitions into the mix and things could get even worse.