The House Republican leadership no longer trusts its own members when it comes to seeking a solution to the deadlock over the closing of the government and dealing with the debt limit.
That’s what’s behind Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refusing to allow a House vote on a “clean” continuing resolution (CR) that would provide appropriations to reopen the government for a limited period while also working out compromises that would raise the debt limit.
Boehner has repeatedly said publicly that House Republicans would be able to defeat such a measure, but if that were the case he would have allowed a vote as he has on other Democratic measures that eventually lost.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that there is a majority of 200 Democrats and 20 Republicans on record supporting the Senate-passed CR. As of Wednesday, The Washington Post has counted as many as 22 House Republicans.
Even Boehner’s most recent legislative gimmick, a bill to establish “a bicameral working group on deficit reduction and economic growth,” reflects the same mistrust of fellow GOP House members, even those he would appoint to the group were it to be established.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Rules Committee, said on the House floor Tuesday that the measure was “an idea from our speaker, . . . Majority Leader Eric Cantor [R-Va.] and our whip, Kevin McCarthy [R-Calif.], and a couple of people who are in the Republican leadership.”
The working group was to have 20 members, 10 each from the House and Senate. The speaker would name six House members, one of whom would be vice chairman. Pelosi would name four. In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would name six, including the other vice chairman, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would name four.
Although the working group’s goal would be to deal with “deficit reduction and economic growth,” its recommendations were to be limited to:
●Overall levels of discretionary spending, including for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2014.
●Changes in the statutory limit on the public debt.
●Reforms in direct spending programs.
What’s missing from the list and “off the table” are any revenue-raising measures to help do away with tax loopholes.
If that were not enough of a sign that House leaders did not want their nominees to wander off the GOP anti-tax reservation, another provision for the panel was the so-called Hastert rule, named for former speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
Under this measure, which passed the House on Tuesday 227 to 94, for any recommendation by the group to be reported back to the full Congress, it must receive the “support of a majority of the members appointed by both the speaker of the House of Representatives and the majority leader of the Senate.”
In short, unless four of the six House Republicans appointed by the speaker (a majority of the majority) supported a deficit-reduction proposal, it would not be recommended by the 20-member group. So the speaker has built into his own proposal that three of his appointees could block anything that emerged.
It echoes what White House press secretary Jay Carney said of the GOP approach in his briefing Wednesday about the overall situation. “Right now Congress — because of a minority of one party in Congress, one branch of government, the American economy, the American middle class, all of us, are being held hostage.”
Needless to say, though the Boehner working group measure has been sent to the Senate, it has little chance of passage.
It’s a good example of the thrashing around within the House Republican leadership as they seek a way out of the mess they have created.
While the speaker’s bill to create the working group was on the floor, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) described it as a “convoluted, cockamamie legislative effort that is going absolutely nowhere. . . . Another ‘message bill’ that is designed to win today’s news cycle but that gets us no closer to resolving this crisis.”
McGovern then gave this biting summary of the GOP’s past actions, saying: “The list of House Republican demands changes every 10 minutes: repeal Obamacare, defund Obamacare, delay Obamacare, stage a non-filibuster filibuster, ask for the entire Romney economic platform in order to raise the debt ceiling, yell at [National] Park rangers, fund this part of the government, fund that part of the government, pay furloughed employees, pay essential employees, hold a conference meeting, hold a press conference, rinse and repeat. Enough, Mr. Speaker. Enough.”
It all would be entertaining if it weren’t so serious.
The Dow Jones industrial average has dropped more than 265 points so far this week. One-month Treasury bills on Tuesday hit their highest levels since the financial crisis as investors worry about the country paying its short-term debts. As interest rates go up, the cost of the U.S. debt grows, the opposite of deficit reduction.
At the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank this week in Washington, research director Olivier Blanchard told reporters: “If there was a problem lifting the debt ceiling, it could well be that what is now a recovery would turn into a recession or even worse.”
Some bipartisan legislators have to step forward and negotiate this out with the president. It’s certainly not going to be Boehner’s bicameral working group.
For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtonpost.com/fedpage.