September 12, 2013

When we last checked in on House GOP leaders, they were struggling to round up support among rank and file GOP lawmakers for their latest scheme to find a way through this fall’s fiscal minefields. They want to pass a measure funding the government temporarily at current levels while also forcing a Senate vote on a measure to defund Obamacare. The latter would go down to defeat; conservatives would get to vote on their defund fantasy; the government would remain open.

Today Politico reports that Senate conservatives Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are now openly deriding the scheme as a sell-out. Crucially, this is why support is building among House conservatives against the GOP leadership scheme:

Cruz and Lee have resisted the House approach because the Democratic-controlled Senate would surely vote to keep the government funded and easily defeat the Obamacare defunding component. Cruz called the approach “procedural chicanery” and asserted that the House GOP would be “complicit in the disaster that is Obamacare” if it supported the maneuver.

“Not a fan,” Lee told POLITICO. “We need the House to pass a [bill] that funds everything else at current levels and contains a defunding provision.”

That sentiment helped ramp up opposition among the two dozen or so House Republicans that take cues from the two senators, the House GOP aide said.

One House GOP aide fumed, accurately, to Politico: “They’re screwing us.”

The divisions have gotten so bad that conservative Senate Republicans are now openly ripping into House GOP leaders as Obama stooges who are complicit in keeping his tyrannical health care law alive. And this is responsible for building opposition to the GOP leadership escape-hatch scheme among conservatives in the House. (Yesterday the conservative revolt forced House GOP leaders to pull the bill off the floor; because neither Dems nor conservatives will support it, Republicans may not have the votes for it alone.)

The key thing here is that the GOP leadership plan would actually work — if Republicans could pass it. Senate Democratic aides have told me they would probably pass the temporary funding of the government at current levels, whereupon they would defeat the defund-Obamacare provision. A shutdown would be avoided. But because nothing short of Total War against Obamacare will do for conservatives, this may not be a workable way out for GOP leaders. What comes next is unclear.

All of this underscores a basic fact about this fall’s fiscal fights: Far and away the dominant factor shaping how they play out will be the divisions among Republicans. There’s a great deal of chatter (see Senator Bob Corker for one of the most absurd examples yet) to the effect that Obama’s mishandling of Syria has diminished his standing on Capitol Hill and will weaken him in coming fights. But those battles at bottom will be about whether the Republican Party can resolve its internal differences. Obama’s “standing” with Republicans — if it even could sink any lower — is utterly irrelevant to that question.

The bottom line is that, when it comes to how aggressively to prosecute the war against Obamacare, internal GOP differences may be unbridgeable. Conservatives have adopted a deliberate strategy of deceiving untold numbers of base voters into believing Obamacare will be stopped outside normal electoral channels. Central to maintaining this fantasy is the idea that any Republican leader who breaks with this sacred mission can only be doing so because he or she is too weak and cowardly to endure the slings and arrows that persevering against the law must entail. GOP leaders, having themselves spent years feeding the base all sorts of lies and distortions about the law, are now desperately trying to inject a does of reality into the debate by pointing out that the defund-Obamacare crusade is, in political and practical terms alike, insane. But it may be too late. The time for injecting reality into the debate has long since passed.

The result is that chaos looms, and the only way out for GOP leaders may be to stiff-arm the Tea Party and pass something with a lot of Dems.

 * HOUSE REPUBLICANS DEEPLY DIVIDED OVER EXTORTION PLANS: Byron York sums up the chaotic divisions among Republicans:

With a deadline — and a possible government shutdown — now 18 days away, House Republicans still can’t agree among themselves on a plan to fund the federal government. Does it have to include a measure to defund Obamacare? Should that be a separate proposal? What about sequestration? Should Republicans trade away some of their hard-won spending cuts for a delay of Obamacare implementation? For entitlement reform? For something else? And what about the debt ceiling?

Here’s a thought: How about breaking the addiction to policy-by-extortion?

* OBAMA SHOULD BE MORE LIKE BUSH, SAY BUSH OFFICIALS: In a piece that will drive discussion, the New York Times looks at the question of whether Obama’s changes of mind throughout the Syria crisis — on whether to go to Congress, and on the pursuit of diploacy — are a sign of weakness, or a sign of a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances. Shockingly, former Bush officials and current Republican lawmakers fall in the former camp.

Two points: First, Republicans and other members of Congress asked Obama to let them have a vote. Second, most Republicans oppose strikes, and some are hoping diplomacy works. So going to Congress, and pursuing a diplomatic solution instead of strikes — both of which some Republicans want — is weakness? There are many serious problems with Obama’s handling of the Syria crisis, but adapting to changing circumstances isn’t one of them.

* OBAMA ALLIES HIT HIS HANDLING OF SYRIA: Some Congressional Democrats are now coming out and criticizing Obama for underestimating opposition to war in the Congress and the country at large. There’s certainly something to this, but it’s hard to argue that going to Congress wasn’t the right thing to do. A bad outcome for the president doesn’t change that.

 * U.N. REPORT COULD SHIFT SYRIA DEBATE: The Cable scoops: that the forthcoming report by United Nations inspectors will implicate the Assad regime in the gas attacks:

The inspection team…will not directly accuse the Syrian regime of gassing its own people, according to three U.N.-based diplomats familiar with the investigation. But it will provide a strong circumstantial case — based on an examination of spent rocket casings, ammunition, and laboratory tests of soil, blood, and urine samples — that points strongly in the direction of Syrian government culpability.

The public and most Members of Congress already accept Assad’s guilt, and there may never even be a vote, but the report will give the administration something new with which to press its case with wavering lawmakers.

 * DIPLOMACY COULD DETER FURTHER CHEMICAL ATTACKS: The New York Times editorial board makes a key point: Continuing diplomacy over how to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control could deter further attacks. As the editorial notes, the diplomatic path is fraught with uncertainty, but we’ve already seen Syria admit to harboring chemical weapons, so it should be given a chance to work.

* OBAMA HAS MADE PROGRESS WITH SYRIA: Fareed Zakaria has a good column countering the conventional wisdom: In fact, by luck or by design, Obama is in a better place on Syria than we could have imagined only recently:

The Obama administration is right to carefully and thoroughly pursue the diplomatic path — even though it will be difficult. While Syria and Russia are doing so as a way to avert an attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin might also be happy to see Assad’s weapons locked up or destroyed. In fact, this gambit might be a way for Russia to achieve its real goals in Syria: no regime change and no chemical weapons.

However, as noted here the other day, despite the common American and Russian interest in avoiding an attack, the question still remains whether their differences on how to secure Syria’s chemical weapons remain unbridgeable.

* AND LABOR ANGER OVER OBAMACARE BOILS OVER: The New York Times reports that anger among unions is on full boil over the Affordable Care Act, the delay of the employer mandate to cover workers and the impact the law could have on existing plans. This is a serious problem for the White House, and labor’s concerns should be addressed. However, despite Republican glee over these tensions, it needs to be restated that unions do not oppose the whole law and only want it fixed.

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.