July 1, 2013

The Democrats are trying to stir up a fuss over Republican hypocrisy today because it’s he 100th day since the Senate passed a budget resolution, and Republicans are still blocking the Senate from going to conference on it.

I don’t much care for the talking point; I thought the original Republican complaint that Democrats hadn’t passed a budget resolution through the Senate for years was massively overstated, and I think the Democratic counter-complaint now is equally overstated. All else equal, sure, the House and Senate should pass budget resolutions and then hold conferences to resolve the differences, but there’s nothing sacred about “regular order” — the real question is whether they’re getting their important business done, not what procedures they follow.

And hypocrisy is overrated as a political sin, anyway. Republicans are either right or wrong when they block a budget conference; if they’re wrong, it’s not any worse if they had previously been correct, and if they’re right, I don’t think it’s undermined by what they said a few months ago.

That said: The whole story really is a good reminder that the Republican Party’s standard operating procedure is to invent talking points out of whole cloth, broadcast those talking points through the GOP-aligned press, and wind up with every conservative commentator out there adamantly and apparently sincerely hitting that point, over and over — to the point that people who pay attention to those outlets wind up passionately believing them.

And yet, it’s obvious that Republicans didn’t really believe what they were saying about “regular order.” At least not the ones who were using it, the “real conservative” Republicans — that is, the ones who are blocking going to conference on the budget now. Or the cheerleaders in the GOP-aligned press; I haven’t done a full study, but I doubt there are many out there who have been consistent on this one.

Now, it’s true that one can probably extend this generally to most procedural arguments; both parties have famously flipped positions on the filibuster after Senate elections. That can even be healthy — again, on the filibuster, the advocates of majority rule and those who defend the rights of intense minorities to have some influence both have legitimate points, and I don’t really see all that much harm done from them flipping every few years.

But as far as I can tell it’s just the Republicans, these days, who invent grand principles on the spur of the moment in order to give them something to talk about, and then treat those “principles” as if they were engraved in stone. It’s not just budget resolutions; as Jonathan Cohn reminds us today, Republicans are still, years later, claiming there was something illegitimate about the Affordable Care Act because part of it was passed through reconciliation, a procedure which was never before or since thought to be in any way unusual (at least not since it was first used in a substantive way to pass Reaganomics in 1981).

At any rate, whatever the effects on the political system, and whatever one thinks about hypocrisy, it’s worth remembering: mainstream conservative Republicans, right now, are capable of working themselves up into a frenzy in which they convince themselves that the republic is at stake if they don’t get their way on some obscure procedural thing that they invented 15 minutes ago and in which they’ll forget as it’s no longer convenient for them to believe it. So I’m not sure why any of the rest of us should take any of it seriously.