Today, the Senate will vote on whether to end debate on the transportation and housing bill, a major test of whether Mitch McConnell is losing control of his caucus as compromise-minded Republicans sour on GOP scorched earth tactics. Yesterday the House yanked its own version of the transportation bill — which would fund the transportation and housing departments but cut spending on them by far more than the Senate version — and both outcomes will have major ramifications for this fall’s debt limit and spending confrontations.
As Brian Beutler detailed yesterday, the pulling of the House bill confirmed what many of us have been saying: the GOP’s vows of deep spending cuts were always a ruse. When the time came to actually propose specific spending cuts at sequester levels, Republicans discovered they couldn’t cut spending on these programs without losing too many Dems and moderate Republicans. 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.
But today’s Post account adds crucial context. These measures failed even as House GOP leaders had sought to keep the focus on show votes on Obamacare and the IRS scandal:
The collapse of the transportation bill, meanwhile, diverted attention from the primary goal House GOP leaders hoped to accomplish before heading home for five weeks: embarrassing the Obama administration and scoring political points. Eager to call fresh attention to the troubled Internal Revenue Service and lingering doubts about Obama’s health-care law, Republican leaders dubbed this “Stop Government Abuse Week” and had scheduled votes on a collection of partisan measures intended to curb the power of government.
The theme had been in the works for more than a month, and GOP aides privately admitted that House leaders rushed consideration of a truncated farm bill in early July to make space on the calendar.
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.
This perfectly captures what’s happening here, and all of this has major ramifications. If McConnell does keep his caucus together and filibuster the transportation bill in the Senate, it will be a sign that not enough Senate Republicans are yet prepared to break with the leadership and compromise with Dems to make basic governing possible.
But the activities in the House show — as GOP appropriations chair Hal Rogers himself put it — that House Republicans probably won’t be able to govern within the sequester’s parameters. That means they may not be able to unite in the spending battles this fall, which in turn means we may be hurtling towards a government shutdown and possibly default on the debt limit with the House GOP mired in chaos, leaving the Senate driving the train. (Throw the conservative insistence on defunding Obamacare into the mix, and it becomes even more volatile.) The resulting mess could help pry loose Senate GOPers who may well have had it with GOP antics and have nowhere to go but to join with Dems. A compromise in the Senate could exert more pressure on House Republican leaders to cave and get out of their jam with House Dem help. And, of course, if McConnell does fail today to hold on to enough Republicans and the Senate does end debate on the transportation bill — with the help of a bloc of defecting GOPers — that becomes more likely still.
It’s a lot easier to vote to repeal Obamacare than it is to engage in basic governing. But this fall there are hard deadlines — on the debt limit and on funding for the government — that will force the issue for Republicans.
* GOP FISCAL SPLIT ERUPTS INTO THE OPEN: The Hill has a good explainer on the intra-GOP tensions that are really driving all of the above chaos. Interestingly, Eric Cantor is blaming the transportation bill mess on the fact that we need to cut entitlements, i.e., that conservative members want to see action on that. Of course, Obama has already offered to cut entitlements as part of a “grand bargain,” and so in a rational world this would make the GOP more willing to deal, not less.
At any rate, as the Hill notes, the pressure on Republicans to cancel the sequester is now out in the open.
* OBAMA VOWS NO NEGOTIATING ON DEBT LIMIT: Related to the above: In his meeting with House Dems yesterday, the President responded as follows to a question about the coming debt ceiling confrontation, according to Rep. Peter Welch:
“It’s a simple strategy, Peter. We’re not negotiating.”
Given that John Boehner has already admitted the debt limit must be raised to avoid damaging the U.S. economy, if Obama holds to this, the coming standoff will likely end as the last one did: With a House GOP cave.
* TIME FOR MORE TRANSPARENCY ON NSA SURVEILLANCE: The Post has a very good editorial today calling on the Obama administration to bring more transparency to the NSA surveillance programs and the legal rationale for them. As the edit notes, there are steps Obama could take right now — without Congress — to facilitate such transparency, and it could equip the public to have the debate about these programs Obama says he wants.
Obama is set to face a grilling from Dem Senators today over the NSA programs, so hopefully he’ll be pressed to account for the steps the administration is taking in this direction.
* MITCH MCCONNELL, UNDER PRESSURE AT HOME: McConnell’s Tea Party challenger, has a question for the Senate GOP leader: Do you want to defund Obamcare, or don’t you? Needless to say, pressure on McConnell from the right back at home to embrace the right’s defund-Obamacare drive won’t make this fall’s debt limit and government shutdown fights any easier.
* PUSHBACK BEGINS FOR LARRY SUMMERS: The Post has a good overview of the evolving battle over who should be next Fed chair — Larry Summers or Janet Yellen — and notably, former administration officials are now going public with the case for Summers:
“He was always a forceful advocate for reducing inequality and fighting off austerity and having aggressive growth strategies that were based in the middle class,” said Neera Tanden, a former White House official who is president of the Center for American Progress, where Summers is a fellow. “He’s basically in line with everything that progressives stand for.”
This doesn’t address Summers’ pro-deregulatory past, and as I noted here yesterday, it’s now obvious that picking Summers will mean a public fight with at least some prominent Dems.
* COULD THE “WAR ON VOTING” HELP DEMS? National Journal explores an interesting question: Can Dems use the GOP campaign to restrict voting at the state level — what Dems call the “war on voting” — to help mobilize minority turnout? This could help decide control of the Senate, because black turnout will be pivotal in the battles over seats held by red state Dems Kay Hagan, Mary Landrieu, and Mark Pryor. Republicans must win three or possibly four such races to recapture the Upper Chamber.
* MORE PUSHBACK ON BOTH-SIDES-TO-BLAME PUNDITRY: Jason Linkins has an interesting piece taking issue with the Ron Fournier article I argued with yesterday. Notably, Linkins engages a Fournier’s argument that I didn’t: that Obama is at fault for “over-promising” to change the culture of Washington, and disillusioning voters in the process. Linkins:
Yes, there is a list of things that Obama overpromised (like that the “Republican fever would break!”) and even some promises he’s shown no intention of keeping. Nevertheless, the first, and biggest, mistake that Fournier makes here is that he conflates “voter disillusionment” for his own disillusionment. They are not one and the same. Voters are disillusioned because we are in the midst of a massive unemployment crisis.
Yes — and the question of which side is more to blame for impeding the recovery is one that should be forthrightly engaged, too.
* AND TODAY’S PLUM READS:
The Dem robo-polling firm Public Policy Polling releases a survey showing Alison Lundergan Grimes with a slim lead (within the margin of error) over Mitch McConnell, 45-44. Fifty one percent of Kentucky voters disapprove of McConnell’s performance.
The DNC is out with a memo recapping GOP efforts to restrict abortion on the state level and arguing the party has shown no real desire to rebrand — a sign women’s health will again loom large in 2014 and perhaps 2016.
Glenn Kessler catches Harry Reid claiming the sequester already cut 1.6 million jobs, when he seems to have meant that the CBO found that ending it could add as many as 1.6 million jobs in fiscal 2014.