Republicans (and some news organizations) are in full scandal-mania mode today, with widespread rejoicing on the right over all the storylines that are all but certain to eventually bring down the president. And it’s true that the IRS and Associated Press stories are both serious business and require a full accounting.
At the same time, however, Republicans are set to vote today for the 37th time to repeal Obamacare, and House conservatives are set to demand a balanced budget in 10 years in exchange for any debt limit hike. Roll Call reports:
The House Republican Conference will meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss the way forward on debt limit negotiations, and a conservative aide said that instead of making cuts to discretionary spending, members are seeking a structural overhaul.
“We do expect many conservatives to make the point that the debt ceiling needs to be tied to reforms from our House-passed budget that get us on a path to balance in 10 years, especially via mandatory spending that drives our debt,” the aide said.
Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said that, for him and many members of the conservative Republican Study Committee, any deal to raise the debt ceiling would have to be tied to a budget that would balance in 10 years “at a minimum.”
The problem here, of course, is that the GOP leadership has already made it clear that Republicans are not prepared to allow default — it caved on the debt ceiling last spring, and John Boehner has openly acknowledged that he has no intention of putting the “full faith and credit of the federal government” at risk.” So it’s unclear how the debt limit can be used as leverage to extract these spending cuts. But conservatives appear insistent on using the threat of economic calamity to demand cuts that would balance the budget in 10 years — something that would essentially wipe away large swaths of the federal government. That isn’t going to happen, and it remains unclear how the House GOP leadership will get conservatives to Yes on raising the debt limit, which means another messy governing-by-crisis showdown that could further damage the GOP.
Meanwhile, with the House GOP set to vote yet again to repeal Obamacare, Jeremy Peters offers us a truly remarkable finding:
The repeal vote, which is likely to occur Thursday, will be at least the 43rd day since Republicans took over the House that they have devoted time to voting on the issue….That means that since 2011, Republicans have spent no less than 15 percent of their time on the House floor on repeal in some way.
This is the other story behind all the scandal-mania: The GOP is still stuck with a base that won’t allow the party to engage in anything approaching reality-based governing, let alone play any kind of constructive or cooperative governing role in moving the country forward.
Many commentators are arguing this morning that the multiple scandal story-lines could create a seriously damaging “narrative” about a “presidency in decline,” as Glenn Thrush put it today. But the GOP is confronting a series of difficult decisions of its own. It is very possible that far right Republicans in the House may kill immigration reform, which could alienate Latinos for a generation, even as demographic reality marches on. These scandals are providing a helpful distraction from all these looming issues, to be sure, and it’s certainly possible the scandals will grow more serious over time.
On the other hand, it’s also possible that they won’t have the staying power Republicans seem to believe they will. If not, later in the summer we may find that the “narrative” is this: Republicans have killed immigration reform; they continue to tilt at Obamacare repeal windmills without offering any kind of health reform alternative; and are mired in discord over whether to stage another debt limit hostage crisis. Maybe, just maybe, all the scandal triumphalism is a bit premature.
* The scandals are becoming the president’s problem: All of the above said, it’s clear that the converging storylines are creating serious communications problems for the White House. As Dan Balz puts it:
The president and his advisers have tried to insulate the White House from the actions of the IRS and the Justice Department, claiming ignorance. The IRS, officials argued Friday, is quasi-independent. It took the president three days to express his outrage at the agency’s actions. As for the Justice Department’s leak investigation, White House officials said Monday night that it was a department decision that was not forwarded to the president. Those are temporary responses that probably will not be sufficient over time. The White House may have known nothing about either, but both are now the president’s problem.
One key question is whether the public will perceive them as such.
* The IRS scandal could get a lot worse: The New York Times reports that Congressional aides are trying to determine whether the IRS’s general counsel, who had learned of the misconduct, had any kind of conversation with anyone in the Obama administration about it. If so, that would give the story a major push, since it would mean discussion of the targeting of Tea Party groups reached outside the IRS.
* No evidence of partisan motivation in IRS scandal? Buried in the Post’s write-up of the IRS inspector general’s new report on the targeting of conservative groups, which finds that officials used inappropriate criteria to target political groups, is this:
The report did not find evidence that the actions were motivated by partisan interests. IRS officials told investigators they did not consult anyone outside the agency about the screening.
This is serious business and needs to be probed further, which is going to happen now that the Justice Department and the FBI are looking at it. The question is whether anything other than a special prosecutor will prove acceptable to the right.
* Could IRS scandal give new life to Tea Party? Sean Sullivan talks to Tea Party leaders who say the IRS’s targeting of them could give the movement something new to rally and organize around, at a time when it lacks the direction and scope that it had back in the glory days of 2010. This is key:
Tea party activists appear eager to concentrate their energy on the familiar target of the health care law….because of the embattled agency’s role in the law’s implementation and maintenance. “I think that’s going to make our job of repealing Obamacare, frankly, an easier lift in the long term,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans For Prosperity.
I’d say this is something Dems should be prepared for, but should not panic about.
* The other side to the IRS scandal: Bloomberg News reports:
The Internal Revenue Service, under pressure after admitting it targeted anti-tax Tea Party groups for scrutiny in recent years, also had its eye on at least three Democratic-leaning organizations seeking nonprofit status. One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected.
That would seem to put at least a bit of a crimp in the developing narrative here, but again, we need a full accounting.
* The Justice Department’s dangerously broad powers: Glenn Greenwald has a good explainer on what is and isn’t known about the Associated Press phone records scandal, and how it fits into a larger context in which the department’s powers to obtain phone records are overly broad and even dangerous.
* Gun talks are continuing: Senator Joe Manchin says he continues to talk to senators about revisiting the Manchin-Toomey expanded background check compromise, and is mulling various changes to mollify the holdouts, such as more clearly delineating the difference between commercial and private sales. It’s key for this to be publicly known, because it will hopefully encourage gun reform groups to continue showing they can maintain energy and organization around the issue.
* And Dems hit back over Obamacare; The DCCC is set to launch robocalls in the districts of 10 House Republicans hitting them over their support for repealing Obamacare. That’s good to see: It suggests that Dems are not getting spooked by GOP threats to make implementation a major issue in 2014.
As I’ve noted here before, the possibility of implementation problems are very real, but Dems can — and should — call for careful implementation of the law and criticize it when it goes awry, without running away from the law wholesale.