October 28, 2013
Paul Ryan (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Paul Ryan (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This week, House Republicans will begin taking baby steps towards entering into the normal give and take of governing that they had foresworn for much of the year, in a last-ditch effort to achieve through chaos governing what they could not achieve in the 2012 election. That’s what will happen, hopefully, when lawmakers will enter into the budget negotiations that were mandated by the recent deal to temporarily reopen the government and raise the debt limit, which Republicans agreed to after admitting their scorched earth tactics couldn’t carry the day.

However, it remains to be seen whether the GOP posture has actually changed.

This is how Politico sums up the thinking among House Republicans right now:

There appears to be a stark split within Republican leadership about whether  the budget process Rep. Paul Ryan is starting has any chance of  succeeding. Some House Republicans believe these bicameral talks are a political  trap, where Democrats are going to insist on raising taxes. Other top House GOP  aides think it’s the best way to wrap up a deal to fund the government through  the 2014 election cycle and remove the issue from the front pages until after voters have gone to the polls.

Throughout leadership and the House Republican Conference there’s a sense of  bewilderment and confusion about what leadership will move to next…The future of Obamacare — and how far to go in trying to undo the 2010  Affordable Care Act — remains at center stage for House Republicans.

The notion that these talks are a “political trap” because “Democrats are going to insist on raising taxes” perfectly captures the problem here. Republicans remain unwilling to accept that the normal give and take of governing could potentially mean they make concessions to Democrats, in exchange for concessions in return. Indeed, the idea is that the demand that Republicans enter into conventional policy discussions is itself a political trap!

That same notion has also infected GOP thinking about immigration reform. Lawmakers like GOP Rep. Raul Labrador are claiming Republicans must drop the quest for reform, because Obama can’t be trusted. And now Senator Marco Rubio, apparently trying to make nice with the right after his apostasy on immigration, is explicitly calling on House Republicans not to pass the Senate bill that he himself championed, and warning of the dangers of going into conference negotiations that include his own bill. Rubio’s spokesman predicts conference could prove a “ruse.”

This basic dynamic continues to apply to Obamacare, too. It remains unclear whether the website’s problems will be fixed by the new November 30th deadline. But beyond these problems, the GOP’s broader position on the law remains deeply incoherent and dishonest. As Brian Beutler details, Republicans continue to hype tales of “rate shock” and coverage loss while refusing to acknowledge that the “winners” from the law will, if it works, outnumber the “losers.” In other words, normal policy debate about the law’s tradeoffs — and by extension, over how to fix the law and make it better, even for GOP-aligned constituencies — remains impossible. While Republicans now concede the folly of the shutdown strategy, they do not concede the folly of the premise that undergirded it, i.e., the need for a continued Total War posture against Obamacare.

All this comes down to a fundamental question: Do Republicans think they need to prove the party can enter into the normal give and take of governing, or don’t they? Maybe the answer is No, because their majority is supposedly invulnerable. If so, there won’t be a budget deal or immigration reform; we’ll keep lurching from one crisis to the next; and we’ll find out what it really means politically in November of 2014.

But if the answer is Yes, that would require acceptance of a basic fact: There is probably nothing that could result from normal governing compromises between Republicans and Democrats that the Tea Party wing can ever accept.

* A BRUTAL DISSECTION OF GOP TRAVAILS:  Related to the above, the Associated Press brings down the hammer:

A year after losing a presidential race many Republicans thought was winnable, the party arguably is in worse shape than before. The GOP is struggling to control tensions between its tea party and establishment wings and watching approval ratings sink to record lows.

It’s almost quaint to recall that soon after Mitt Romney lost to President Barack Obama, the Republican National Committee recommended only one policy change: endorsing an immigration overhaul, in hopes of attracting Hispanic voters.

That immigration bill is now struggling for life and attention in the Republican-run House. The bigger worry for many party leaders is the growing rift between business-oriented Republicans and the GOP’s more ideological wing. Each accuses the other of bungling the debt ceiling and government shutdown dramas, widely seen as a major Republican embarrassment.

Again, time to accept that the Tea Party probably won’t ever allow any basic governing to take place, and shape the party’s strategy accordingly.

* WHAT TO WATCH ON IMMIGRATION THIS WEEK: A coalition of business executives, evangelical leaders, and conservative pro-immigration groups are set to descend on Congress this week to pressure some 80 House Republicans who are thought to be gettable on the issue. As I outlined the other day, there is a route to getting reform done in which Republicans defer their tough votes until after primary season; the real question is whether it’s as easy for Republicans to ignore calls for action as they claim it is.

The key will be whether there are enough Republicans who are willing to urge action inside the House GOP caucus.

* MEET THE ONE HOUSE GOPer BREAKING RANKS ON IMMIGRATION: GOP Rep. Jeff Denham of California announces he will join with Democrats to support comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship. Says Denham: “I expect more to come on board.”

That would be nice, but remember, Denham is from a heavily Latino district. The problem, as Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman has shown, remains that there are just too few House Republicans representing districts with large enough Latino populations to make a difference in 2014.

* OBAMA SHOULD ACT NOW ON IMMIGRATION: The New York Times has a good editorial spelling out the various actions the President could take on his own to begin fixing the immigration system, including a stop to record numbers of needless deportations. If Obama is going to lambast Republicans for failing to act to fix our broken system, and invite Americans to pressure them to act, then perhaps he, too, should acknowledge the pressure on him to do what he can right now, and act on it.

* QUOTE OF THE DAY, OBAMACARE-ISN’T-DOOMED-YET EDITION: Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat, on Meet the Press:

“It’s going to be a success…They’re going to fix it…Everybody needs to chill out because it is going to work.”

Kentucky’s state-run exchange has been a success, and Bashear has forcefully argued that public officials should be helping their own constituents (imagine that) to benefit from the law.

Also, don’t miss Jonathan Cohn’s must read big picture piece explaining the real tradeoffs Obamacare is asking us to make, as opposed to the one-sided version pushed relentlessly by its foes.

* WHY OBAMACARE’S ROLLOUT WAS SO ROCKY: Paul Krugman has a good column documenting that, while the administration bears blame for the health law’s rollout fiasco, the larger story is that the law is far more complex than it needs to be because single payer is a political impossibility, thanks to

an ideology that is fundamentally hostile to the notion of the government helping people, and tries to make whatever help is given as limited and indirect as possible, restricting its scope and running it through private corporations. And this ideology, at a fundamental level — more fundamental, even, than vested interests — is why Obamacare ended up being a big kludge.

This gets at why the GOP position on the rollout is comically incoherent: Republicans are attacking the law for its short term web site failings, even as they are doing everything possible to block untold numbers of Americans from benefitting from it and to do away with it entirely.

 * JOBS FIRST, DEBT LATER: E.J. Dionne makes the point that can’t be repeated enough: Yes, debt will have to be dealt with, but only in the long run. The short term imperative guiding policy makers in coming budget talks should be jobs and economic growth.

The problem is that many Republicans won’t even admit the deficit is falling or acknowledge the concessions Dems have already made on spending, making a reasonable conversation about our budget priorities all the harder.

* DE BLASIO POISED FOR BIG WIN IN NEW YORK: What may be the final New York Times poll finds Public Advocate Bill de Blasio leading by 68-23 in the mayor’s race with a week until election day. This is key:

His campaign themes emphasizing income inequality, improving public education and creating housing seem to be resonating. He continues to enjoy ratings that any elected official would envy, with 62 percent of likely voters viewing him favorably, and only 22 percent unfavorably. Nearly half of likely voters said Mr. de Blasio’s greatest strength was his ability to understand the needs and problems of people like them. And more than half said they thought that he would bring about change that would make the city better.

If he wins, liberals nationally will be watching the de Blasio mayoralty as a model for prodding the national Democratic Party in a more economically progressive direction.

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