The Morning Plum: Behind jubilation about scandals, GOP is rudderless and adrift

As I’ve been saying here for some time, behind all the GOP noise and hoopla about Beltway scandal-palooza is a stark reality that can’t be obscured. House Republicans are confronting two major challenges – what to do about the debt limit and about immigration reform, both of which will require cooperation from House conservatives that they aren’t prepared to give — and they don’t have an answer to either one.

This is driven home in fresh and vivid detail by today’s big Post story on the deep divisions within the House GOP caucus. As the story details, there is no strategy for dealing with either the debt limit or immigration:

[T]he most momentous policy decisions, including an immigration overhaul and a fresh deadline for raising the federal debt limit, have no coherent strategy to consolidate Republicans, much less take on the Democrats.

And there is rising fear among some Republicans that House conservatives won’t accept any debt limit hike:

Many within the party wonder if there’s any approach Republicans will unify behind this time. Several veteran Republicans, speaking on the condition of anonymity to criticize their colleagues, said they fear there are too many extreme budget hawks to approve a deal with GOP votes alone, further hampering their leverage in negotiations with the Senate.

Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is trying to rally support for a broad rewrite of the tax code in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling. But many conservatives consider that insufficient to meet the Williamsburg agreement, which they hold requires a path to balancing the budget within a decade.

This is remarkable stuff. John Boehner is already on record confirming he has no intention of allowing default, which he admits would constitute putting the “full faith and credit of the federal government” at risk. Yet Republicans are now insisting they will demand tax reform in exchange for agreeing to something (a debt limit hike) we all know is inevitable. On top of that, even this exchange would not be sufficient for House conservatives, who still want to balance the budget in 10 years with no new revenues — in keeping with the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint — even though that could require wiping out large swaths of the federal government and even though Republicans will never, ever, ever propose specific cuts that would accomplish it.

For all the good cheer among Republicans over the ongoing scandals, they still don’t know how to persuade House conservatives to stop acting crazy. They don’t know how to get them to Yes on either the debt limit or on immigration reform. And so later this year the “narrative” could be not about the scandals, but about Republicans. Far right Republicans may well have deep-sixed immigration reform’s hopes — dealing a serious blow to efforts to repair relations with Latinos, which even some Republicans say is essential for the party to remain competitive in national elections. At the same time, the party could well be mired in deep discord over whether to stage another reckless, destructive debt limit crisis that is all about nothing more than giving conservatives the hostage standoff they must have — further underscoring the House GOP’s inability to engage in basic governing.

* DEMS NOT TAKING GOP’S BAIT ON OBAMACARE IMPLEMENTATION: Politico reports that Democrats are coming together around a party-wide strategy not to run from Obamacare during the 2014 elections, and instead to embrace the law, particularly its most popular elements. I’ve been reporting here for some time that Dems would do this; it’s good to have it confirmed again.

Republicans continue to insist implementation problems will be a good weapon against Dem candidates. And certainly there will problems. But again: Dems can — and should — criticize implementation where it falls short, while simultaneously standing squarely behind the whole law and its goals. Dems should not take the GOP’s bait and run from the law.

* STATES REJECTING MEDICAID EXPANSION GETTING TERRIBLE DEAL: Relatedly, the Wonkblog team has a good post on a new study confirming that GOP-controlled states opting out of the Medicaid expansion will get a truly awful deal:

It finds that the result will be they get $8.4 billion less in federal funding, have to spend an extra $1 billion in uncompensated care, and end up with about 3.6 million fewer insured residents. So then, the math works out like this: States rejecting the expansion will spend much more, get much, much less, and leave millions of their residents uninsured. That’s a lot of self-inflicted pain to make a political point.

Indeed, and as the good news out of California has shown, states that actively try to sabotage the law will only look more ridiculous and corrupt when compared to those trying to make it work.

* GOP PUSHES TAX REFORM IN WAKE OF IRS SCANDAL: The Times reports that top House Republicans are moving to channel public anger over the IRS scandal into the cause of overhauling the tax code, on the theory that this will make it easier to get the public to accept doing away with politically popular deductions and exclusions.

Tax reform is one area where Republicans do seem serious about getting something done, but it will require them to get the wealthy to part with cherished tax preferences. If they can’t embrace their one leading cause, it’s more confirmation they are a “post policy” party. The need to link the case for reform to the IRS scandal doesn’t help matters.

* OBAMA SET TO STAGE JUDICIAL SHOWDOWN: The President today is set to nominate three judicial picks for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, a central ideological battleground, and this will escalate the battle over whether Dems will revisit rules reform. Steve Benen puts this in perspective:

Republicans are characterizing this as a scandalous power-grab, while many political reporters are describing this as Obama thumbing his nose at his political rivals. In reality, it’s neither — presidents filling judicial vacancies is basic American governance. It’s Civics 101. That today’s announcement is seen as somehow remarkable is evidence of just how broken the process has become.

It’s also evidence of the degree to which the undemocratic 60 vote Senate has been internalized by many observers as normal and inevitable.

* DOES IMMIGRATION REFORM LACK VOTES TO PASS SENATE? The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker talks to proponents of immigration reform who claim immigration reform is still short of 60 votes in the Senate. Color me skeptical. There seems to be a faction among Dems that wants to shift the bill farther and farther to the right, to win very broad bipartisan support for the Senate, on the theory that this will suddenly get House Republicans to embrace a path to citizenship.

* GOP SCANDAL OVERREACH PRODUCING MEDIA BACKLASH: The other day, Darrell Issa, confronted with his lack of proof of White House involvement in the IRS scandal, said Republicans are “getting to proving it.” In a good column dissecting GOP overreach without evidence, Dana Milbank gets it right:

Congressional investigators have not produced evidence to link the harassment of conservative groups to the White House or to higher-ups in the Obama administration. But the lack of evidence that any political appointee was involved hasn’t stopped the lawmakers from assuming that it simply must be true. And so, they are going to hold hearings until they confirm their conclusions.

As I’ve been saying here, perhaps optimistically, the GOP hyping of scandals really does appear to be producing a media backlash.

 * AND THE BLOGWAR OF THE DAY: Josh Barro versus Erick Erickson, which reveals a good deal about what’s wrong with today’s GOP. Barro:

For two decades, the Republican party’s  strategy to overcome its disadvantage on economic issues has been a cultural  appeal to people like Erickson: non-urban whites who feel threatened by social  change. That is, the kind of people who think it’s an  alarming trend that women are financially independent, or who think the most salient fact about a writer they dislike  might be his sexual orientation…the party’s reliance on a resentment-based appeal  has caused its policy apparatus to atrophy.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.
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Greg Sargent | June 3, 2013