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Sunday, October 06, 2013

Boehner's Bluff And Why He Can't Budge

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner did a round of Sunday shows asserting that he does not in fact have the votes to pass a "clean" continuing resolution to end the Republican engineered shutdown of the government now in its sixth pointless and poisonous day.

To be clear, a "clean" CR means in this case a resolution to fund the government for the few weeks that remain until the next ridiculous Republican engineered shutdown, and its "cleanliness" refers to the fact that it simply would not include provisions to defund or delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the historic healthcare insurance reform legislation that is the signature accomplishment of the Obama administration, now the law of the land, duly passed after months of negotiation by both houses of Congress, including many Republican sponsored amendments even though no Republicans had the basic sense or decency to vote to pass the resulting legislation reflecting their input, found to be Constitutional by the Supreme Court after years of challenges, and then endorsed by the landslide electoral college victory of President Obama after a two year campaign in which one of the central issues before the people was a dispute over whether the Act should be implemented or repealed.

So-called "moderate" Republicans (if any remain) have expressed various degrees of public displeasure over this shutdown spectacle, mostly because they see it as bad politics, though some, presumably, have some principled opposition to the Tea Party anti-governmentality for which a shut-down is an end in itself. If all the Democrats in the House minority were allowed to vote for the "clean" CR and most of the so-called "moderates" on record voted with them, the shutdown would end and something like normal order would resume, presumably the budgets passed by both houses would go to committee to hammer out their differences.

When this eventuality is discussed, it usually leads immediately to the question whether this would provoke a Tea Party revolt likely to topple John Boehner's Speakership in a symbolic auto-da-fe to ward off far right primary challenges across the GOP. This is an interesting and splashy discussion to have, but it is important to remember that the reason the House GOP has not been willing to go to conference committee in normal order has been because to do so their abstract commitments to "cut spending" would be translated into a host of explicit commitments to cut actual spending on actually popular programs that would transform the electoral winner slogan for the GOP of "shrinking big government" into the electoral loser slogan for many in the GOP of "killing jobs in hard economic times for folks in my district in order to preserve low taxes for billionaires." This underlying reality has not changed, even as the stink of the government shutdown attaches to the GOP and brings the House into play from a different direction anyway.

When John Boehner says he does not have the votes to pass a clean CR despite the fact that more than enough non-Tea Party Republicans are on record expressing willingness to vote to pass such a clean CR, it is just as likely that Boehner denies the existence of the votes because the votes are not actually there (and hence the "moderates" are lying about how they would vote in order to appear moderate in districts unsympathetic to Tea Party rhetoric) as that he is lying about the votes to postpone a vote that would likely end his Speakership in order to create the conditions under which a different face-saving outcome around the debt ceiling might preserve his Speakership intact.

Of course White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has called Boehner on his claim, saying: "If he's right, why not prove it?" That is to say, if Boehner is right that the GOP votes are not there, why not demonstrate this by allowing the vote to show where everybody really stands? Sure, from Boehner's standpoint, such a vote could only be a symbolic one if what he says is true, but then he has allowed over forty purely symbolic votes to defund Obamacare to go through, so he clearly has no principled opposition to symbolic votes as such. (Of course, I jest.)

Needless to say, the White House is not really encouraging such a vote because they think it likely that the vote would end the shut down at all, any more than John Boehner refuses it because he thinks it will not.

If such a vote were held, come what may, it would demonstrate that the majority of Republicans want the government to be shutdown and the majority of Democrats want the government to be working -- and all this "messaging the shutdown" blame-gaming nonsense would be over for good. Of course, recognition of the stakes of this exposure might be one of the few things at this particular juncture that could actually bring into existence a Republican voting block large enough to partner with the Democrats to end the shutdown after all -- even if Boehner is quite right for now in saying that the numbers are not really there.

This means, that if the shutdown were to continue after the symbolic vote the White House is calling for it would be on terms that place the blame unambiguously on the GOP in the run-up to the 2014 mid-terms, and that if the shutdown were to end as a result of the vote it would end in a way that would humiliate both the GOP leadership and the Tea Party base. Democrats who point out that the "clean" CR funds the government at sequester levels of austerity of which they rightly utterly disapprove, are not mentioning that the next occasion for negotiation over these terms comes in just a few week's time and that to enter such a negotiation in the aftermath of the utter demoralization of the GOP leadership and base in the House, with their majority in the Senate, and their control of the White House, as well as with the healthcare exchanges up and running with millions of users, and without the pressure point of another debt ceiling or funding deadline to provide cover for unpopular GOP demands is not exactly a state of affairs Democrats anticipate with alarm.

Of course, the Republicans are in a terrible place even if they do not fall for this bluff calling on the part of the White House this time. Boehner's eventual deal will be the merest cosmetic face-saving, and is hardly going to satisfy Tea Partiers who are hell bent on stopping the now unstoppable Obamacare because of unreasonable expectations raised by the extraordinarily inflated promises made by Ted Cruz as a way of raising donations from the rubes in anticipation of his phony upcoming 2016 presidential bid slash PR tour to get his inevitable Glenn Beck-Sarah Palin-esque wingnut tinpot media fiefdom on the road. Even if he does manage to survive the present storm, to proceed in a way that even approaches normal order in coming months is likely to embroil Boehner in one after another Speakership challenge come what may, and barring unforseeable calamities the mid-term elections may well topple his Speakership ingloriously enough soon enough anyway.

Republicans are now a white-racist misogynist know-nothing theocratic neo-Confederate rump seeking to maintain a figleaf of relevance by whomping up the energy and dollars of ignorant angry aging bigoted out of touch reactionary straight white guys who still listen to Rush and watch Fox. America is a diversifying, secularizing, urbanizing, planetizing nation ever more open to social democratic equity-in-diversity. It's only a matter of time before the GOP must change or die, and the reliance of the GOP on stupid and evil people is leading to the kinds of mistakes that exacerbate their crisis and hasten the moment they adapt or vanish for good.

1 comment:

jimf said...

> [I]f the shutdown were to continue after the symbolic vote the
> White House is calling for it would be on terms that place the
> blame unambiguously on the GOP in the run-up to the 2014 mid-terms

I noticed the other day that Paul Krugman mentioned that the
opinion of the punditry (or at least what he calls the "conventional
wisdom") is that the Republicans are not in fact going to suffer
all that much come the mid-term elections from all this, not enough
to lose control of the House:
Paul Krugman - New York Times Blog
October 5, 2013
Shorting Out The Wiring

[T]here’s a whole small industry of crunching numbers on
the 1995-6 shutdown, etc., to estimate the likely impact on
next year’s elections. For now the conventional wisdom is
that the impact will be small, not nearly enough to restore
Democratic control.

Here's something else I found on Krugman's blog. I had thought
that Social Security payments (let alone the new Obamacare!)
were sacrosanct. But apparently some people think paying the
interest on T-bills is more important. Of course, leave it
to Goldman Sachs to think so:
October 6, 2013
Hitting the Ceiling: Disastrous or Utterly Disastrous?

Goldman Sachs has a short paper (not online) arguing that the
government probably could prioritize payments on Treasury bills,
avoiding the breakdown of markets that would come from putting
the world’s key safe asset into default. They don’t sound too
confident. But even if they’re right, the government would still
go into arrears on many other payments, from contractor bills to
medical bills. And it would be forced into savage spending cuts,
around 4 percent of GDP, that wouldn’t just cause hardship
(Surprise! No Social Security for you this month!) but amount to
a severely contractionary fiscal policy. . .