GOP lawmakers, cowed by the right, drop pretense of policy sanity

September 11, 2013

Breaking news this afternoon from the House of Representatives: Republicans have pulled the temporary Continuing Resolution needed to keep the government open for business through the end of the year off of the schedule. Jonathan Strong reports:

House leadership has decided to delay the vote on a bill funding the government to next week amid a small rebellion from conservatives who want to use the measure for a do-or-die fight on repealing Obamacare.

The problem? They don’t have the votes:

A third GOP source says the initial whip count, conducted yesterday, registered just over 200 “yes” votes, meaning there is still work to do to get a Republican-only majority of 218 votes. Though the vast majority of the GOP conference is on board, only a small number of defections – as few as 17 – could imperil the bill.

Sources tell Strong they’re making “progress” towards getting the votes. But conservatives could very well be lured away by another (so far apparently ill-defined) proposal making the rounds this afternoon in which Republicans would demand a one year delay in Obamacare in exchange for restoring some sequester cuts (and possibly raising the debt limit, too). This one is even harder to take seriously.

I think they’re about to run into a bigger problem, which is that as long as Tea Party groups are dissatisfied with the bill, it’s really a lose-lose vote for mainstream House conservatives. Many Republicans just have no incentive right now to vote for anything that will anger conservative groups.

As Greg pointed out earlier today, sooner or later GOP leaders are going to have to move on without those groups; the final CR will have to be acceptable to Barack Obama and Senate Democrats, and that means it won’t defund Obamacare. What, then, is the value for mainstream conservatives of angering Tea Partyers with a vote for a temporary measure they hate now, when they’ll only have to take more tough votes on longer term funding of the government later? It’s hard to see any reason for mainstream conservatives in the House to push anything through at this point that alienates the Tea Party.

Basically, Republican rank-and-file Members are being asked to vote for something which won’t please conservatives, won’t solve the longer term funding battles, and, I’ve argued, won’t even help their bargaining position against the Senate in those coming long term funding battles. Given all that, I suspect there’s a good chance that John Boehner will just let the Senate go first, and deal with whatever they produce once they’ve acted.

Granted, this is a terrible way to run the government. But until mainstream conservatives start actually caring about real policy choices and stop being mostly motivated by fear of their Tea Party shadows, it may be the best we can hope for.

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Greg Sargent | September 11, 2013