A trio of far right Tea Party Senators — Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee — continues to block the Senate from entering into negotiations over the budget by insisting that negotiators be barred in advance from raising the debt limit as part of the talks. This has drawn the ire of John McCain and Susan Collins, with McCain calling out the Tea Party bloc for making unprecedented demands that will effectively make normal governing impossible.
The GOP feud only appears to be growing. The Huffington Post reports that a number of other GOP Senators have come out in support of McCain and Collins, and while they say they oppose raising the debt limit, they are uncomfortable with the Tea Party brigade’s blockade against hashing out these issues in conference discussions.
All of which raises a question: Who are these Tea Party Senators even speaking for?
A new Post/ABC News poll suggests that even Republican voters are turning on austerity and the fiscal status quo. It finds that among overall Americans, 56 percent disapprove of the sequester cuts, and among Republicans, 54 percent disapprove of them. Only 39 percent of Republicans approve. While majorities still say they have not personally felt the cuts, ABC News notes that the poll also finds that the number who have felt them is rising, and among those people, economic pessimism runs stronger.
The sequester, of course, is the result of Congress’ inability to reach a fiscal deal. The Tea Party brigade — with the apparent support of GOP leader Mitch McConnell — won’t even allow Congress to enter into fiscal discussions unless it is established beforehand that raising the debt limit must require 60 votes in the Senate.
What makes this whole spectacle even more dispiriting is that GOP leaders such as John Boehner have already admitted Republicans won’t allow default. Yet we are all supposed to pretend the debt limit gives Republicans leverage, anyway, even though we know it is a foregone conclusion that they will agree to raise it in the end. Indeed, Boehner has openly acknowledged that all of the theatrics Republicans are going through as they gear up for a debt ceiling showdown are all about figuring out how to give conservatives a way of getting to Yes on the debt limit hike.
Large swaths of the Tea Party base are apparently convinced that the way to deal with supposedly runaway spending is to stage a confrontation over the debt ceiling, even though raising it is only about borrowing to cover obligations already incurred — and failing to do so will tank the economy. Large swaths of the Tea Party base are also apparently convinced that the need for still more massive spending cuts retains the urgency of a holy crusade, even though the deficit is falling and we’re already dealing with ongoing sequester cuts at a time when the recovery remains anemic.
The ongoing histrionics in Congress — the impasse over whether to enter into budget talks now, and the debt ceiling confrontation looming later — illustrate the tight grip these intertwined Tea Party manias have over our policymaking right now. Fortunately, even some Republican Senators appear to be growing weary of these histrionics, perhaps suggesting that the Tea Partyers have finally pushed their “post policy nihilism” too far.
* CHART OF THE DAY: With the news that a bridge in Washington State has collapsed, Joe Weisenthal brings the chart showing that public infrastructure spending as a share of GDP has itself collapsed, and is now at the lowest levels in 20 years. More austerity right away!
* HOUSE GOP IMMIGRATION TALKS BACK ON TRACK: Roll Call reports that negotiations over immigration reform are back on track in the House, after a period in which they looked to be in trouble. The report says negotiators have “resolved the contentious issue of how and whether immigrants waiting to become citizens should be able to obtain health insurance.”
However, conservatives continue to expect House Republicans to mount a stand against the most fundamental aspects of the Senate immigration compromise, insisting that enforcement triggers must precede any path to citizenship — meaning immigration reform’s fate in the House is anything but certain.
* OBAMA’S DELICATE WAR ON TERROR BALANCING ACT: Scott Wilson has a good overview of the President’s national security speech yesterday: While Obama was visibly ambivalent about the morality of war on terror policies such as drone strikes and indefinite detention, he also aggressively reasserted his authority to pursue those policies, albeit in a more limited way. This nugget is interesting:
Although there is little political pressure on Obama to change counterterrorism policies largely supported by the public, his advisers say it is an area where he cares personally about how history judges him and what he leaves in place for his successor.
Also see James Fallows on how this was a speech that treated Americans as adults.
* GOP WARY OF SPECIAL PROSECUTOR FOR IRS SCANDAL: This is interesting: Republican lawmakers are turning out to be resistant to the idea of a special prosecutor to probe IRS targeting of conservative groups. While their public reason for this is that it could limit their own authority to probe the story, this could also reflect wariness of GOP scandal overreach and backlash.
* LOIS LERNER PLACED ON LEAVE: The head of the IRS’s exempt organizations division has been placed on administrative leave, after pleading the Fifth rather than testify about the targeting of conservative groups. As noted here the other day, even if that was the appropriate thing for her to do, it effectively meant she must be removed from her post. The question now is whether GOP investigations chief Darrell Issa will try to compel her to testify by citing her previous statements about the affair, which (he may claim) constitute the waving of her Fifth Amendment rights.
* A GOOD OMEN FOR OBAMACARE IMPLEMENTATION: Jonathan Cohn finds that the early Obamacare returns in California show the state’s residents are getting a good deal on insurance they are buying via the state’s new exchanges, which suggests the law might not result in the “sticker shock” Republicans have predicted, perhaps boding well for Obamacare implementation elsewhere. Dems will remain vigilant, since officials in GOP-controlled states seem to be actively working to sabotage that implementation, even as Republicans openly root for the law to fail to use it as a weapon in 2014.
* GABRIEL GOMEZ, NOT SENATORIAL MATERIAL: The GOP Senate candidate in Massachusetts actually called opponent Ed Markey “pond scum” over a Markey online ad showing Gomez’s face next to Bin Laden, something that calls into question his readiness for prime time. It’s also worth noting that Gomez’s objection is just silly: the Markey ad uses the image to point out Gomez’s role in a right wing group that blasted Obama for supposedly trying to take undo credit for Bin Laden’s killing.
* AND YOUR SORELY NEEDED FRIDAY COMIC RELIEF, MICHELE BACHMANN EDITION: Glenn Kessler rips apart Bachmann’s latest: Her laughable claims that the IRS is building a massive database, as part of Obamacare implementation, to collect people’s personal, sensitive health care information, which seems like a conflation of several right wing paranoid fantasies. Note that when asked to justify the assertions, a Bachmann spokesman cited … right wing media — illustrating the power of the conservative information feedback loop at work.