Congress

A Spine Is a Useful Thing to Have

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci H ow much damage have the Republicans done to themselves going into the elections of 2014 and 2016? And has President Obama resolved to hang tough, not just in this round, but in the one that follows and the one after that? The contrived shutdown crisis proved two things. It proved that Republicans are split down the middle between a lunatic, fundamentalist wing that prefers wreckage to governing and a pragmatic wing often allied with Wall Street. And it proved once and for all that being tough in the face of blackmail beats appeasement that only courts more rounds of blackmail. Business elites applied escalating pressure on the Republicans not to let the United States default on its debt. In the end, 144 House Republicans voted against the measure, and 87 voted for it. That 144, though, exaggerates somewhat the true strength of the Tea Party faction. Some of that vote was a protest against the failure of the Democrats to give anything in return. For now, public...

How Conservatives Reacted to the Shutdown/Default Deal

The despair that comes from knowing poor people are going to get health insurance. (Flickr/Jerry Furguson Photography)
Yesterday, John Boehner told a Cincinnati radio station, "We fought the good fight. We just didn't win." That's one way to look at what happened; another is that frightened Republicans allowed their most unhinged members to pull them into a political disaster that any rational person could have foreseen (and many certainly did). That Republicans would never get what they wanted—the destruction of the Affordable Care Act—was obvious. That they'd come out of it with almost nothing at all was nearly as predictable. So now that the battle is over, how are conservatives reacting? Let's take a look around. First, we've got some people who are seething with rage at their party for not hanging tough until they destroyed Obamacare: "I was trying to think earlier today if ever in my life I could remember any major political party being so irrelevant … I've never seen a major political party simply occupy placeholders, as the Republican party is doing." — Rush Limbaugh "Republican leadership has...

How Liberals Should Feel about the Shutdown/Default Agreement

Don't go too wild with the celebrations. (Flickr/Susana Fernandez)
We have a deal. At this writing no votes have been taken, but by the time you read this, the agreement brokered between Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell may well have passed one or both houses. So how should liberals feel about it? Let's break it down. 1. The government is funded through January 15th at sequestration levels. Even though sequestration was supposed to be painful for both sides, it turned out that Republicans were quite happy about it. Democrats would have preferred to reverse sequestration and have a less arbitrarily slashed budget, but this isn't the end of the world. Conclusion: Meh. 2. The debt limit is raised until February 7. When details were first coming out about the agreement, one report I read in Politico implied that henceforth, debt-ceiling increases were going to proceed on what is known as the McConnell Plan, since Mitch McConnell once proposed it (before changing his mind). Under that plan, Congress could pass a bill refusing to increase the ceiling, but...

Take the Fourteenth!

AP Images/Charles Dharapak
Remember the proposals that were current back in 2011 to have President Obama invoke his authority under the 14 th Amendment to keep funding America’s public debt, even without approval from Congress? Well, that proposal has suddenly become highly relevant again, even urgent. Prior to 1917, Congress did not even require periodic legislation to increase the debt ceiling. Statutory approval was added as part of the large increase in World War I borrowing. The 14 th Amendment, approved after the Civil War, included several provisions, but the key one for our purposes was Section 45. It provided that: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion….shall not be questioned.” The intent was to make sure that Union war debts would be paid and Confederate ones would not be. A number of constitutional scholars believe that this provides ample authority...

What Explains Ted Cruz?

AP Images/Jose Luis Magana
B etween his 21-hour non-filibuster to halt Obamacare, his impassioned, hard-line speech at the right-wing Values Voters Summit, and his meeting with House Republicans at the mediocre Mexican joint, Tortilla Coast , it’s clear Ted Cruz has been conducting the shutdown train, even as the country heads into default and his party heads over a cliff. Just about every write-up of the man portrays a smart and opportunistic political mind, eager to be, as The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith puts it, “the Tea Party’s one true standard-bearer.” But is his strategy just crazy? Pundits in Washington can’t decide what to make of it. At The Washington Post alone, you can find a number of conflicting opinions. Jonathan Capehart, for one, thinks Cruz is just like Sarah Palin. But he also thinks he’s deeply cynical . WaPo’s The Fix blog notes Cruz has hurt himself badly based on poll numbers. But the blog’s main writer, Chris Cilliza, also notes he’s set himself up perfectly for the 2016 presidential...

Eight Things about the Shutdown/Default Crisis that Are Still True

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite A s we approach default, it seems like every hour brings a new development in our crisis, and you'll be forgiven if you aren't able (or can't bear) to follow every new proposal, abortive vote, and angry denunciation. So it's a good time to remind ourselves of some things that were true yesterday and last week, and are still true today. These are the things we need to keep in mind as this horrid affair tumbles forward. 1. We all know how this ends. We've almost forgotten this, but if John Boehner brought a bill to the House floor today funding the government and raising the debt ceiling without any idiotic anti-Obamacare provisions, it would pass, and the crisis would be over. I repeat: it would pass, and the crisis would be over. And yes, Tea Partiers would be mad at him. They might even try to stage a coup and install one of their own as Speaker. But they'd probably fail. And Boehner would not only be saving the country any more misery, he'd be saving his...

Old Conservatives Can't Learn New Tricks

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
AP Photo/Alex Brandon I f President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats wanted to maximize the political advantage they're getting from the shutdown/default crisis, they'd agree to at least one part of the short-term deals Republicans have offered, raising the debt ceiling for only six weeks at a time. Then we'd have one default crisis after another, and the standing of the GOP would keep on its downward trajectory until—let's just pick a date at random here—November 2014. But Republicans won't do that; they're now insisting (and good for them) that the deal has to extend at least a year into the future so we don't have to keep going through this. If they get that deal, though, the issue will fade and voters could start to forget how reckless Republicans have been. They could forget, but I'm guessing Republicans won't let them. It isn't as though the ultimate conclusion of this crisis is going to result in a chastened GOP, ready to be reasonable and assure the public it can...

The GOP Craziness You Missed over the Weekend

It's only a flesh wound!
We're at kind of a weird point in the shutdown/default crisis. Everyone knows Republicans have lost; it's just a matter of working out the details of how we get out of this mess. The sane ones are trying to come up with some sort of agreement that will end the crisis before any further damage is done to their party while providing something they can call a concession from the Democrats, thereby allowing them to save face, to the extent that John Boehner can hold the damn vote and claim that it isn't an abject failure. But alas, sanity seems to be in short supply on the right side of the aisle, even at this late hour. Over the weekend, National Review reporter Robert Costa, who seems more plugged in to the House Republicans than any other journalist in Washington, tweeted the details of an emerging GOP proposal: To decode that for you: House Republicans are proposing to allow a six-week extension of the debt ceiling, and what they want in exchange is, first, the Vitter amendment, which...

John Boehner Is Adrift

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
At this point, I'm starting to get the feeling that John Boehner spends a good portion of each day sitting around in his office with a bunch of aides as they all stare at the ceiling. "Anybody got any ideas yet?" he says periodically. "No?" Heavy sigh. Every couple of days they come up with something, float it to reporters, and find that it only serves to confuse things, to the point that nobody knows what they're demanding anymore. First they'd only open the government and raise the debt ceiling if the Affordable Care Act were defunded. When that didn't fly, they suggested they'd release the hostages if the ACA were delayed for a year. No go on that, so they suggested that they'd accept some kind of "grand bargain" as long as it included "entitlement reform," which is Republican code for cutting Social Security and Medicare. Nope. Then they said they'd take some package of unnamed budget cuts and tax cuts. They aren't getting that either, and now it seems they've finally come to...

Postcards from the Shutdown Edge

AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)
AP Photo/Chuck Burton T en days into the shutdown, it’s easy to wonder just how much the federal government helps people day-to-day. We’ve heard about delays in highways maintenance and about federal workers who have to wait until the government opens to get paid. What about those programs conservatives are always complaining about? You might have expected stories about people suffering without help from various federal services—from food stamps to welfare checks. Instead, there’s been little to indicate needy people are going without. That’s because the worst potential effects of the shutdown have been delayed—for now. States, even deep red states, are currently covering for the feds. Some programs waiting for re-authorization—like food stamps—are still largely intact because the federal government sends out reimbursements at the end of the month, so there’s still money and state employees to administer the benefits. Others programs have state money to thank. Through moving funds...

Is the Shutdown Creating a Dystopic Political Future?

The House GOP caucus, circa 2024.
Let's cast our minds forward a few weeks, to after the shutdown/default crisis is over. At that point, the 2014 off-year elections will be only a year away. And what will the lasting effect of this episode be? Maybe not all that much. After all, the party of the sitting president almost always loses seats in off-year elections, the big exception being 1998, when the electorate turned on Republicans after the spectacle of impeachment. The shutdown/default is a very big deal, and the GOP will certainly suffer for it, but it's not that big. Even if things turn out as badly as possible for the Republicans, chances are that they'd only lose a few seats in the House—not enough to lose control—because of the way the district lines are drawn (it was Republicans' great good fortune to have an enormous win at the state level in 2010, the year before post-census redistricting took place). I could be wrong about this, of course ( here's a suggestion by Sam Wang that losing the House is a real...

How the Crisis Ends

In 2010, John Boehner tells President Obama, "I'm open! Pass it over here!" The President declines. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
I know it may be a little hard to envision right now, but the crisis we're in at the moment is going to come to an end. The question is, how? It might be worthwhile to think through the major possibilities. I've added odds for each one, based on my best (and necessarily subjective) judgment. 1. President Obama caves. He agrees to delay the Affordable Care Act for a year to restart the government and agrees to budget cuts and entitlement cuts beyond the sequester-level budget Democrats have already agreed to in order to raise the debt ceiling. Tea Partiers triumph. Many congressional Republicans still think this is a possibility. They see Barack Obama as a weakling who will always crumble in the end. They also suffer from a common political delusion, that the American public agrees with you on both the substance of policy and the tactics you've chosen. So even with polls showing approval of the shutdown, their party, and the institution in which they serve plunging to the depths of...

Will Republican Moderates Really Allow the Government to Reopen?

The palace of intrigue. (Flickr/K.P.Tripathi)
The latest rhetorical tool the President and his allies are using on John Boehner is telling him to put his money where his mouth is, specifically on the "clean" continuing resolution passed by the Senate. Boehner claims that if he allowed a clean CR to be voted on in the House, it would fail, so he must continue to demand a pound of flesh from the administration as the price of reopening the government. Barack Obama's response is, if that's true, then why not let it come up for a vote and see what happens? In recent days, a couple of news organizations have made counts of the Republican "moderates" (not all of whom are actually moderate) who have made public comments indicating they would support a clean CR. As of now, The Washington Post 's tally has 21 Republicans in favor; combine them with the 200 Democrats, all of whom are likely to vote for the clean CR, and you've got a majority. But would these moderates follow through if it came to a vote? As David Karol says in an excellent...

The Power of No

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of very nice people who won't be shutting anything down. (Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
It's been noted many times that the conservative Republicans driving the shutdown/debt default crisis are insulated from political repercussions for their actions by the fact that they come from extremely conservative districts where they face little to no risk of getting beaten by a Democrat in a general election. The implicit argument is that safe seats equate to not just ideological extremism, but the kind of procedural extremism we're seeing now. Yet as Eric Boehlert observes , there are lots of Democrats who are just as safe as these Republicans—in fact, there are more Democrats with safe seats, and many of those seats are even safer than Republican safe seats. So why don't the extremely conservative Democrats engage in the same kind of gamesmanship the Tea Party Republicans do, threatening to burn the whole place down unless they get their way? Before we answer the "why" question, here's what we're talking about. Let's look at the Cook Partisan Voter Index , which sorts...

The Debt-Ceiling Crisis to End All Debt-Ceiling Crises

Don't worry--unlike what's going on in Washington now, this is only a drill. (Flickr/USAG-Humphreys)
The most important fact about the shutdown crisis, which is soon to become the shutdown/debt-ceiling crisis, is that Democrats are not making any demands. The only thing they want is for the government to reopen and for the United States not to default. Since these are things Republicans also claim they want, they can't be considered demands. Republicans, on the other hand, have lots of demands, even if they keep changing. That's why the current Republican talking point—"Why won't the Democrats negotiate?"—is fundamentally misleading. One way for this whole thing to end is for Republicans to give up their demands and admit they've lost. Unsurprisingly, they're reluctant to do this. But what if Democrats started making a demand of their own? Today, White House press secretary Jay Carney said something encouraging: that Barack Obama is never again going to negotiate over the debt ceiling. "Whether it's today, or a number of weeks from now, or a number of months from now, or a number of...

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