Congress

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...

Dancing with the Shutdown Spin that Brought You

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite S pin is overrated. Alas, it’s never going away. If there’s one thing that political scientists try, repeatedly, to convince the reporters and correspondents who cover politics of, it’s that fundamentals tend to matter a lot more than they think, and opinion manipulation matters less. Not none—but in many cases, not very much. That’s why, for example, it was easy to predict that Republicans would lose the polling battle over the shutdown. If spin mattered, then that wouldn’t be the case; we would have to wait to see how well each side developed and delivered their “messaging” and their “narratives.” Oh, they do that; it just doesn’t matter nearly as much as structural elements, such as the advantage that a president has over congressional leaders in these sorts of situations or the fact that going into this particular battle, Democrats were united while Republicans were split. When this is over and you read a behind-the-scenes story about how the White...

Leave Boehner Alone!

He's a very sensitive guy. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
The government shutdown is a crisis with its roots in both policy differences and disagreements about what means are appropriate to settle those policy differences. But it's also a conflict of individual people and personalities. Not that this should be news to anyone, but the key players involved—President Obama and the four congressional leaders, but most particularly Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—really, really don't like each other. Nothing too surprising there, but I'm beginning to wonder whether Democrats are helping things by the way they're talking about Boehner. Ordinarily, this kind of thing might matter only at the margins, but we're in a situation now where personal enmities and bruised egos could play a significant part in how and when this whole thing gets settled. Let's stipulate that Boehner is incredibly weak, even pathetic. Democrats look at him with contempt. It's apparent to all that he knows the shutdown is bad for the...

America's Neediest Families Are About to Run Out of Money

AP Images/Melanie Stetson Freeman
Update: Governor Jan Brewer has ordered state officials to redirect $650,000 in state funds so that families continue to receive welfare benefits. W hen Congress shut down the government, one of the many programs caught up in the fracas was Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), the program created by the 1996 welfare-reform law. Spending on the program is mandatory, and normally wouldn’t be a casualty of an appropriations fight like the one waged now. But the law officially expired three years ago. Instead of taking it up again, Congress has simply extended the last reauthorization with each new spending bill. No spending bill, no welfare program. The biggest way the ’96 reform law changed the program was by turning it into a block grant to states: Whatever the federal government appropriated for programs designed to help poor families, they would send it in chunks to state governments that were fairly free to decide how to spend it. TANF continues to provide cash benefits to some...

Good News About the Debt Ceiling May Mean Bad News About the Shut-Down

John Boehner apparently will let the debt ceiling rise, even if he has to rely on Democratic votes to do it . This is both good news and bad news. It’s good news because we won’t have a global financial panic in two weeks time. Boehner apparently got Wall Street’s message loud and clear: If you make the United States government default on its debts, you take responsibility for a worldwide economic catastrophe. But the flipside of Boehner’s back-off is that there’s less pressure on House Republicans to end the government shut-down. The Tea Party wing of the party, having lost what they believed was the most potent weapon in their arsenal, will likely compensate by seeking to roll the shut-down on—and on, and on. Boehner, having made a concession to reality by not forcing a governmental default, will have to go along with a prolonged shut-down. Unless there are 18 center-right Republican House members willing to threaten bolting the GOP’s ranks if Boehner doesn’t permit a vote on a...

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