Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Boehner

The ObamaCare Shutdown Crackup

It started as an appeal to principle against pure pragmatism. It is ending as farce. After getting their way in the House of Representatives last Friday when House Speaker John Boehner agreed to push through a bill funding the government but not ObamaCare, Tea Party hardliners were faced with a problem. Once the bill was in the Senate’s hands, the Democratic majority would trash it. So in order to continue their quixotic quest, Senator Ted Cruz, whose fiery rhetoric and implicit threats of primary opposition for any Republican who didn’t join his suicide caucus had helped create this dilemma, had to come up with a tactic that would keep the fight going without immediately kicking it back to the House. Ever resourceful, Cruz found an answer. But it is not one that is going to do his cause any good.

Cruz’s solution to the problem was to effectively back a filibuster of the House bill that he supports. No, that’s not a typographical error. In order to stop ObamaCare, Senate conservatives are going to have to vote against cloture of the bill that they spent the last few weeks cajoling and threatening the House GOP to pass. But as they say in Texas, that is a dog that will not hunt.

Theoretically, the tactic will trigger the showdown with President Obama and the Democrats that Cruz has been assuring the GOP grass roots can be won if only Republicans don’t lose their nerve. But in order to get there he is forcing Senate Republicans to adopt a hypocritical stance that is too much for even some of the most stalwart conservatives and libertarians. Put simply, if even Rand Paul thinks this is a situation where some compromise is called for, it’s time to drop the curtain on the government shutdown drama that has convulsed the Republican Party and threatens to rescue an Obama administration that is about to fade into lame-duck irrelevancy.

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It started as an appeal to principle against pure pragmatism. It is ending as farce. After getting their way in the House of Representatives last Friday when House Speaker John Boehner agreed to push through a bill funding the government but not ObamaCare, Tea Party hardliners were faced with a problem. Once the bill was in the Senate’s hands, the Democratic majority would trash it. So in order to continue their quixotic quest, Senator Ted Cruz, whose fiery rhetoric and implicit threats of primary opposition for any Republican who didn’t join his suicide caucus had helped create this dilemma, had to come up with a tactic that would keep the fight going without immediately kicking it back to the House. Ever resourceful, Cruz found an answer. But it is not one that is going to do his cause any good.

Cruz’s solution to the problem was to effectively back a filibuster of the House bill that he supports. No, that’s not a typographical error. In order to stop ObamaCare, Senate conservatives are going to have to vote against cloture of the bill that they spent the last few weeks cajoling and threatening the House GOP to pass. But as they say in Texas, that is a dog that will not hunt.

Theoretically, the tactic will trigger the showdown with President Obama and the Democrats that Cruz has been assuring the GOP grass roots can be won if only Republicans don’t lose their nerve. But in order to get there he is forcing Senate Republicans to adopt a hypocritical stance that is too much for even some of the most stalwart conservatives and libertarians. Put simply, if even Rand Paul thinks this is a situation where some compromise is called for, it’s time to drop the curtain on the government shutdown drama that has convulsed the Republican Party and threatens to rescue an Obama administration that is about to fade into lame-duck irrelevancy.

To say that Senate Republicans aren’t buying Cruz’s cynical stand is an understatement. While no one should ever underestimate the willingness of U.S. senators to twist themselves into pretzels to gain a momentary advantage, asking the GOP to filibuster the very bill they begged the House to pass is a bridge too far even for Cruz. There is no way that he will get 41 Republicans to go along with this farce, and for good reason.

Even if one thought that, at least in theory, it was possible for Republicans to go to the brink with the president over defunding the government over ObamaCare, to do so in this manner isn’t just suicidal; it’s insane. As difficult a sell as a shutdown would be for the GOP, to do so while filibustering your own party’s bill should be considered excessive even by Cruz’s standards. The president was always going to win such a standoff, but if that is the ground on which the Republicans choose to make their stand, the administration doesn’t even have to make much of an effort to convince the public that any damage that results from a shutdown should be blamed on the GOP.

And that should lead those who have spent the last week blasting Boehner as a craven hostage of his Tea Party caucus to rethink their evaluation of the speaker. By going along with those conservatives clamoring for eliminating funding for ObamaCare, he seemed to be caving in and supporting a shutdown. But what he has done is to merely serve the ball back into Cruz’s court, knowing full well that the Texan has no viable option to continue the battle. Rather than setting a shutdown in motion, Boehner’s action may actually be the first step toward a rational agreement that will allow the GOP to avoid going over the cliff with the Tea Party. Since he has given his members a chance to vote to defund ObamaCare, the failure of the Senate firebrands may enable him to ask the House to pass a compromise that will avoid catastrophe.

Cruz and his followers will denounce such rational behavior, but if Boehner eventually gets his way President Obama will have good reason to be disappointed. As much as ObamaCare is a mess that should never have been passed, there is simply no path to its elimination so long as the Democrats control the White House and the Senate. Recognizing this fact isn’t the act of a RINO, it is merely rational analysis of the problem. The crackup of the shutdown effort illustrates that Cruz and company are all about the rhetoric but never had a game plan to actually get their way. Republicans should pay close attention to the way this is playing out and thank Providence if their party narrowly avoids the disaster they seemed headed for last week.

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Boehner’s Recess Gambit May Backfire

Because of the current division of power in Washington, the one group that goes mostly ignored in coverage of legislative fights is the House Democratic caucus. Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, but have enough seats to force bipartisan compromise for anything to pass. The GOP controls the House, which doesn’t have to ask the minority for permission to do much of anything–and besides, House Speaker John Boehner has consistently preferred the Senate go first on legislation.

This state of affairs is especially true on immigration, where we have heard endlessly about both parties’ Senate strategies and the House GOP’s competing approaches. But in fact the House Democrats seem to want immigration reform to pass, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reports on their latest strategic maneuvers to force a vote either on the Senate bill or a near-identical piece of legislation:

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Because of the current division of power in Washington, the one group that goes mostly ignored in coverage of legislative fights is the House Democratic caucus. Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, but have enough seats to force bipartisan compromise for anything to pass. The GOP controls the House, which doesn’t have to ask the minority for permission to do much of anything–and besides, House Speaker John Boehner has consistently preferred the Senate go first on legislation.

This state of affairs is especially true on immigration, where we have heard endlessly about both parties’ Senate strategies and the House GOP’s competing approaches. But in fact the House Democrats seem to want immigration reform to pass, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reports on their latest strategic maneuvers to force a vote either on the Senate bill or a near-identical piece of legislation:

At the center of the internal debate is Nancy Pelosi and the question of whether Democrats will file a so-called “discharge petition” for the Senate immigration bill. If a discharge petition were signed by a majority in the House, the measure would get a full floor vote….

A House Democratic leadership aide tells me no decision has been made on whether to proceed with the petition. According to people familiar with the situation, it’s provoking opposition among some Dems on the House “gang of seven,” who fear it could give Republicans in the “gang” an excuse to walk away from an emerging compromise that may be the best hope for anything approaching a comprehensive bill in the House. Some Dems in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and some Dems in border districts also are cool to the idea, because they object to the Senate bill’s huge border security buildup. They would prefer to stake their chances on the possibility of a bipartisan House bill or on conference negotiations designed to reconcile the Senate bill with whatever the House passes.

The latter group of Democrats faces long odds, I would think. It will be a heavy lift for the House GOP leadership to get the Senate (or an identical) bill through, but the only chance of passing something like that out of the House is by placating conservatives’ desire to prioritize border security. Democrats who want to pass a version of the Senate bill without the border security measures are deluding themselves.

Additionally, there is no strategy that would be less of a surprise than the attempt to pass something out of the House and then reconcile the bills in conference. Conservatives expect that option to be on the table the whole time, which is why many are opposed to passing any large piece of legislation that could come out of conference negotiations having been pulled significantly to the left.

The truth is that the great hope for comprehensive immigration reform in the House that would include a path to citizenship for those already here has more to do with a later post from Sargent, in which he writes of the apparent lack of anti-“amnesty” outrage, thus far, at GOP town halls. I wrote about this last week, noting that the congressional recess period is going to give representatives a chance to take the temperature of their districts’ attitudes toward immigration reform. Much of this, however, comes down to interpretation. What if the recess goes quietly? At the Washington Examiner, Byron York and Conn Carroll give dueling analyses. Here’s York:

If August goes quietly on the immigration front, some Republican lawmakers may return to Washington with the sense that voters back home don’t really mind that immigration reform goes forward. And then it will.

Will it? Here’s Carroll:

If Republican town halls go smoothly this summer and Republicans do not feel any heat from their constituents on the issue, amnesty is all but guaranteed to die a slow death by irrelevance this fall.

This is a good example of why there’s so much concentration on reading tealeaves. Boehner’s strategy is predicated on the notion that an outpouring of public opposition in Republicans’ home districts over the summer recess will not only doom immigration reform but make Republicans look furiously anti-immigrant in the process. (This is exactly what happened last time, in 2006-2007.) So he has decided not to craft a bill, thinking that this will deprive opponents of a target.

He’s right about that. But the plan may be too clever by half: there is no real way to test public opinion without an actual bill. That means Republican members of the House may come back from recess having no idea what many of their constituents actually think about a piece of legislation that, after all, doesn’t exist yet. Those Republicans may be inclined to leave well enough alone, in which case Boehner’s attempt to save immigration reform will backfire.

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Immigration Reform and the Lessons of ’06

Speaker of the House John Boehner boxed himself in on immigration reform, but an article in National Journal makes a compelling case that he has a plausible Plan B. His initial approach to immigration reform followed what has been called the “Boehner Rule”: have the Senate pass legislation first, so the House can avoid taking tough votes on legislation that will die in the Senate anyway (Nancy Pelosi’s decision to force the then-Democratic House to vote on cap-and-trade is a good example of what Boehner wants to avoid).

But as Boehner’s critics have noted, forcing the Senate to pass bills first removes some of his caucus’s influence on new legislation. And there is always the likelihood that anything that passes the Democratic-controlled Senate will be anathema to the Republican House–which is exactly what happened with immigration reform. The bill was crafted by a bipartisan “gang of eight” and produced a compromise bill that House conservatives greatly dislike.

After insisting the Senate go first, Boehner was left to explain why the Senate bill won’t even be considered by the House, and why it was necessary or preferable for the Senate to even pass a bill if it would have no influence on the legislation ultimately put together by House Republicans. It appeared that the “Boehner Rule” would damage the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform even more than the much-discussed Hastert Rule, intended in this case to prevent a bill being passed on the strength of the Democratic minority in the House.

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Speaker of the House John Boehner boxed himself in on immigration reform, but an article in National Journal makes a compelling case that he has a plausible Plan B. His initial approach to immigration reform followed what has been called the “Boehner Rule”: have the Senate pass legislation first, so the House can avoid taking tough votes on legislation that will die in the Senate anyway (Nancy Pelosi’s decision to force the then-Democratic House to vote on cap-and-trade is a good example of what Boehner wants to avoid).

But as Boehner’s critics have noted, forcing the Senate to pass bills first removes some of his caucus’s influence on new legislation. And there is always the likelihood that anything that passes the Democratic-controlled Senate will be anathema to the Republican House–which is exactly what happened with immigration reform. The bill was crafted by a bipartisan “gang of eight” and produced a compromise bill that House conservatives greatly dislike.

After insisting the Senate go first, Boehner was left to explain why the Senate bill won’t even be considered by the House, and why it was necessary or preferable for the Senate to even pass a bill if it would have no influence on the legislation ultimately put together by House Republicans. It appeared that the “Boehner Rule” would damage the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform even more than the much-discussed Hastert Rule, intended in this case to prevent a bill being passed on the strength of the Democratic minority in the House.

To add to the frustration of reform proponents, Boehner announced no immigration bill would be finalized before the congressional recess, despite his earlier hopes a vote would be held before the break. But that, writes National Journal, is actually a strategy to pass, not bury, immigration reform:

Keeping immigration on the back-burner helps avoid a recess filled with angry town-hall meetings reminiscent of the heated August 2009 protests where the backlash against health care reform coalesced. Doing nothing also starves Democrats of a target, Republicans argue.

“August was a central part of our discussions. People don’t want to go home and get screamed at,” a House GOP leadership aide said.

According to this strategy, Boehner and the GOP will use the recess to focus voter anger on Obama administration scandals and the latest ObamaCare outrages. Rather than follow the Democrats’ precedent on ObamaCare and unleash public opposition to their own bill, Boehner wants to use the recess to reignite the anti-ObamaCare energy. But while Boehner uses ObamaCare as the template to avoid, there is actually another precedent that is even more relevant to this issue: the 2006 meetings held by congressional Republicans to oppose immigration reform during George W. Bush’s second term.

Bush supported efforts to reform the immigration system and his outreach to Hispanic immigrants enabled him to get more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2004 reelection campaign against John Kerry. In his book Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders, Jason Riley quotes Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg as saying that the Democrats were taking the Hispanic vote for granted and Republicans were reaching out to those same voters. It appeared the GOP had solved the riddle:

“I thought the Republicans had probably passed the tipping point on this thing with Latinos,” says Rosenberg. “I thought the Democrats had been caught flat-footed, that Bush and Dowd had moved an unbelievably powerful strategic chess piece. Then the Republicans decided to hold those field hearings. I said, ‘I can’t believe they’re really going to do this.’ “

[…]

Republicans believed, with reason, that heavy turnout facilitated GOP gains in 2002 and 2004, and they were terrified that their base would stay home in November. Politicians are famous for their inability to see past the next election, and congressional Republicans in 2006 were no different. They covered their ears to warnings from Bush, Mehlman, and Rove that the strategy could backfire and spent the months leading up to the midterms desperately trying to demonize illegal aliens.

There were no doubt a number of factors that led to the GOP’s disastrous results in the 2006 midterms. But Boehner seems to understand that giving immigration opponents the space to rally the base would prove the GOP had unlearned at least some of the lessons from 2006.

In addition to trying to divert grassroots conservative attention away from immigration reform, Boehner also seems to be–intentionally or not–ceding that space to supporters of immigration reform. The Hill reports that “Business groups, tech companies and labor unions are bringing down the hammer on House Republicans over immigration reform.” These groups “worry the August recess could be their Waterloo, and are planning events, rallies and editorial board meetings to keep their legislative push alive.”

As veterans of the press or electoral politics know all too well, generally opponents of anything are far more energized and voluble than supporters of the same. It’s difficult to imagine, for example, the Chamber of Commerce mustering the kind outrage in support of immigration reform typified by opponents of ObamaCare or the earlier iteration of comprehensive immigration reform. Nonetheless, the GOP’s House leadership is convinced the delay is the only way to save immigration reform. Whether such a bill ultimately passes or not, avoiding a replay of the angry anti-immigration days of 2006 can at least prevent the right from doing even more damage to its standing among immigrant groups.

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GOP Leaders’ Wise Rebuke of Steve King

The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin is right to praise Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for their criticisms of Republican House member Steve King.

Representative King, speaking about legislation that would legalize illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents as young children, said this:

They will say to me and others who would defend the rule of law, “We have to do something about the 11 million. And some of them are valedictorians.” Well my answer to that is – and by the way, their parents brought them in, it wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents. For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.

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The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin is right to praise Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for their criticisms of Republican House member Steve King.

Representative King, speaking about legislation that would legalize illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents as young children, said this:

They will say to me and others who would defend the rule of law, “We have to do something about the 11 million. And some of them are valedictorians.” Well my answer to that is – and by the way, their parents brought them in, it wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents. For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that they weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.

In a statement, Boehner said, “There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language. Everyone needs to remember that.” Mr. Boehner, later in the week, amplified his criticisms by saying this: “Earlier this week, Representative Steve King made comments that were, I think, deeply offensive and wrong. What he said does not reflect the values of the American people or the Republican Party.” And Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, said of King’s remarks: “I strongly disagree with his characterization of the children of immigrants and find the comments inexcusable.” (Cantor is working on a bill that would legalize young undocumented immigrants.)

Representative King’s interview with NewsMax.com is worth watching. His comments actually started out with the goal of showing sympathy for young kids who were brought here by parents who are illegal. But King couldn’t contain himself; he felt compelled to portray a reasonable and humane idea as something that would “destroy the rule of law” and rip apart American society. In order to do that, he had to distort the fact. The Senate proposal says that to qualify for provisional status those applying would need to maintain clean criminal records, including no felony convictions, no more than three misdemeanor convictions or a conviction of a serious crime in another country, and no unlawful voting.  

Beyond that, one cannot help but sense that underneath it all, what animates Mr. King on this issue is a consuming rage against undocumented workers and their families. I wouldn’t deny for a moment that some illegal immigrants create problems for our nation. But that is far from the full picture. Some people who come to America illegally, and their children, make genuine contributions to our nation. The truth is it’s a mixed bag. But Mr. King has no interest in subtleties. He is a man on a mission. He wants to get people to think of illegal immigrants and their children simply as malignancies, a kind of existential threat to American civilization (he’s compared illegal immigration to a “slow-rolling, slow motion terrorist attack on the United States” and and a “slow-motion holocaust”), as bordering on being sub-human. Which is why the rebuke of him by the House Republican leadership was wise and necessary. It is imperative that the party of Lincoln and Reagan separates itself from the views of people like Mr. King. 

There are certainly reasonable and thoughtful critics of immigration reform. Steve King doesn’t happen to be one of them. His views need to be isolated, like a contagion–not by Democrats but by his fellow Republicans. John Boehner and Eric Cantor understand that. This was an important step and I hope other Republican leaders add their own voices to those of Boehner and Cantor. Because people like Steve King aren’t going away. Rather than ignoring them, influential Republicans need to confront them, as a way to illustrate what the true convictions of the GOP are.

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The GOP’s Immigration Crackup

Given how many accounts have been published of yesterday’s closed door meeting of the House Republican Caucus to talk about immigration reform, it might have saved everyone a great deal of time if House Speaker John Boehner had just invited C-Span to televise it live (the cable news networks would have been too busy broadcasting the George Zimmerman murder trial). Piecing together all of the various reports, we know that Boehner warned his members of the price of inaction on the issue. But we also know that a large portion of the House GOP is inclined to do just that even if they are floating ideas about passing seven or eight different bills on the subject that will address various elements of the problem, though none are likely to address the question of what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

Though Boehner and, even more importantly, Rep. Paul Ryan, would like to cajole the caucus into putting forward some coherent response to the bipartisan compromise bill passed by the Senate, it’s growing increasingly clear that the speaker’s warnings are going to go unheeded. Too many House members have come to the conclusion that an influential portion of their grass roots constituency won’t tolerate anything done on immigration other than the militarization of the border with Mexico that was part of the Senate’s gang of eight deal. Cheered on by some of conservatism’s leading lights such as the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and the National Review’s Rich Lowry, the consensus of most political observers is that it appears to be that the nothing option is exactly what will happen. Since, as has been pointed out continuously, most Republican House members run in districts where they don’t have to listen to anyone but fellow conservatives, few have any inclination to act in a manner that is consistent with their party’s best long-term interests, let alone doing the right thing about immigration.

While I think the doomsayers about passage of any reform bill are probably right, there’s a small chance the House can somehow cobble together something that can be called immigration reform in the form of a package of bills that might address border security, deal with the reality of illegal immigrants and rework the law in a way that would encourage legal immigration that is essential for the continued growth of our economy. But for that to happen, it would require the House GOP to start listening to the counsel being offered to them by Boehner and Ryan. Right now, that looks like too heavy a lift for either the speaker or the influential House budget chair. Like a train wreck that can’t be stopped, the GOP immigration crackup seems inevitable.

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Given how many accounts have been published of yesterday’s closed door meeting of the House Republican Caucus to talk about immigration reform, it might have saved everyone a great deal of time if House Speaker John Boehner had just invited C-Span to televise it live (the cable news networks would have been too busy broadcasting the George Zimmerman murder trial). Piecing together all of the various reports, we know that Boehner warned his members of the price of inaction on the issue. But we also know that a large portion of the House GOP is inclined to do just that even if they are floating ideas about passing seven or eight different bills on the subject that will address various elements of the problem, though none are likely to address the question of what to do with the 11 million illegal immigrants already here.

Though Boehner and, even more importantly, Rep. Paul Ryan, would like to cajole the caucus into putting forward some coherent response to the bipartisan compromise bill passed by the Senate, it’s growing increasingly clear that the speaker’s warnings are going to go unheeded. Too many House members have come to the conclusion that an influential portion of their grass roots constituency won’t tolerate anything done on immigration other than the militarization of the border with Mexico that was part of the Senate’s gang of eight deal. Cheered on by some of conservatism’s leading lights such as the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and the National Review’s Rich Lowry, the consensus of most political observers is that it appears to be that the nothing option is exactly what will happen. Since, as has been pointed out continuously, most Republican House members run in districts where they don’t have to listen to anyone but fellow conservatives, few have any inclination to act in a manner that is consistent with their party’s best long-term interests, let alone doing the right thing about immigration.

While I think the doomsayers about passage of any reform bill are probably right, there’s a small chance the House can somehow cobble together something that can be called immigration reform in the form of a package of bills that might address border security, deal with the reality of illegal immigrants and rework the law in a way that would encourage legal immigration that is essential for the continued growth of our economy. But for that to happen, it would require the House GOP to start listening to the counsel being offered to them by Boehner and Ryan. Right now, that looks like too heavy a lift for either the speaker or the influential House budget chair. Like a train wreck that can’t be stopped, the GOP immigration crackup seems inevitable.

It is unfortunate that so much of the discussion about the need for Republicans to pass immigration reform has centered on the supposed political advantages that will accrue to them if they do it. Critics of the gang of eight bill are right when they say its passage won’t guarantee Republicans a larger share of the Hispanic vote in 2016. But the problem is not so much whether Hispanics can be enticed to become GOP voters as it is the spectacle of a Republican Party that seems willing to fall over itself in order to pander to people who are openly hostile to immigration or any form of legalization for the 11 million people who are already here and aren’t going to be deported.

While Kristol and Lowry in their well argued manifesto against the reform bill claim that the current debate has been notable for the absence of “hostility to immigrants” that characterized so much of the arguments that shot down President Bush’s attempt to reform immigration, I think they are not listening much to talk radio or reading the comments sections of newspapers and magazines that report on the issue. Kristol and Lowry claim, “you can be pro-immigrant and pro-immigration, and even favor legalization of the 11 million illegal immigrants who are here and increases in some categories of legal immigration—and vigorously oppose this bill.” While I think that is undoubtedly true about that formidable pair of conservative editors, the same cannot be said for many of those who agree with them that “nothing” would be better than passing the legislation.

While they and other critics of the bill have attempted to pose the question as a no-confidence vote in the Obama administration’s trustworthiness, the idea that any fix to immigration must wait until a Republican is elected president doesn’t strike me as a particularly effective argument on policy. If the legalization-first element is what is really bothering some conservatives, then they can craft a bill that would reverse the order of some of its provisions. But what they seem to be saying is that any measure that cannot guarantee a hermetically sealed border or magically prevent those who come here legally but then overstay their visas from doing so is unacceptable. That, like Mitt Romney’s infamous “self-deportation” idea, is not a serious position.

Nor am I convinced that it is now a core conservative principle that any large compromise bill on any measure must be stopped. Liberals who have pointed out that conservatives were ready to make compromises of all sorts to defend policy measures that were important to them in the past, like tax cuts, are right. Unless we are to adopt a parliamentary style of government in which the majority can more or less pass anything they like so long as the whip is out without the constitutional checks and balances of our system, compromises on big issues are always going to be necessary. Any idea that passage of separate House bills that are not necessarily compatible with each other, let alone capable of Senate passage, is a rational plan is daft.

But those House members who appear determined to ignore the pleadings of Boehner and Ryan are not so much being influenced by the intellectual arguments mustered by Kristol and Lowry as they are the fear of offending those who think any solution to the 11 million illegals that offers legalization and/or citizenship is an offense to the rule of law or a threat to the future of the culture of the nation. Kristol and Lowry don’t use the word “amnesty” to characterize the gang’s bill, but most opponents of the bill do. The fixation on punishing or getting rid of the present population of illegals leaves the impression that malice is driving the discussion. So long as conservatives are heard to argue that the bill is a formula for the creation of more Democratic voters or a plot by the Obama administration to permanently marginalize the GOP, Hispanics and many other Americans are likely to interpret opposition to reform as an appeal to nativist sentiment, not a policy prescription.

I think Kristol and Lowry are wrong about the urgency of the matter not so much because we can’t live with a long-broken system for another few years but because the longer so many Republicans give the country the impression that they fear immigration—legal or illegal—they will be harming their image in a manner that will go beyond the putative impact on the Hispanic vote.

A lot of leading conservatives seem to think that they can’t survive if they oppose the net roots on this issue, and perhaps there is some truth to that. Boehner would probably lose his speakership if he allows a vote on the reform bill or anything like it that is produced in the House. It’s also possible that getting labeled as RINOs or establishment cat’s-paws will damage individuals and institutions that agree with conservatives like Ryan, George W. Bush and Marco Rubio that an immigration compromise is the right thing to do as well as good politics for the GOP. But the failure to deal with this issue will do conservatism far more harm in the long run than those who believe it can wait until a Republican president or Senate arrives in Washington think. If the GOP listens to the naysayers, it may be a long wait before either of those outcomes arrives.

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Time-Out May Be the GOP’s Best Option

The top news out of the House Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia is that the party is considering a short-term extension of the debt limit in order to give the party more time to try and convince their Democratic antagonists to start cutting spending. The proposal, which according to the New York Times, is being floated by Rep. Paul Ryan, could wind up connecting the debt ceiling issue with the deadline for the implementation of sequestration that would mandate devastating across-the-board spending cuts. That would theoretically give the GOP some room to maneuver in order to avoid a confrontation with President Obama that few think they would win. But it is hard to avoid the impression that the main object of a delay would be to deal with the Republicans’ biggest problems: a lack of unity.

Like a sports team in disarray, the GOP needs a time out where they can catch their breath and somehow get on the same page with each other. As the votes over House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B and then the final fiscal cliff deal revealed, the party is badly split between those who don’t want to give an inch on spending and taxes, those who think that compromise with the president is inevitable and those who believe the best the party can do is to speak out for its principles and oppose tactics that will blow up the economy and help demonize the party. But the problem for the Republican leadership is that even if they can buy themselves some more time to get their fractious caucus in line, the likelihood that a confident and aggressive President Obama will either accept a short-term extension or deal honestly with them on the issues.

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The top news out of the House Republican retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia is that the party is considering a short-term extension of the debt limit in order to give the party more time to try and convince their Democratic antagonists to start cutting spending. The proposal, which according to the New York Times, is being floated by Rep. Paul Ryan, could wind up connecting the debt ceiling issue with the deadline for the implementation of sequestration that would mandate devastating across-the-board spending cuts. That would theoretically give the GOP some room to maneuver in order to avoid a confrontation with President Obama that few think they would win. But it is hard to avoid the impression that the main object of a delay would be to deal with the Republicans’ biggest problems: a lack of unity.

Like a sports team in disarray, the GOP needs a time out where they can catch their breath and somehow get on the same page with each other. As the votes over House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B and then the final fiscal cliff deal revealed, the party is badly split between those who don’t want to give an inch on spending and taxes, those who think that compromise with the president is inevitable and those who believe the best the party can do is to speak out for its principles and oppose tactics that will blow up the economy and help demonize the party. But the problem for the Republican leadership is that even if they can buy themselves some more time to get their fractious caucus in line, the likelihood that a confident and aggressive President Obama will either accept a short-term extension or deal honestly with them on the issues.

The argument for a time out is that in its current condition with a leadership that can’t count on its members to agree to back a unified strategy on fiscal issues, Republicans are doomed to defeat no matter what option they choose. The president is counting on the GOP splintering into warring factions and has done his best to help that process along by goading his opponents whenever possible including his stunning attack on them even as the two sides were negotiating a deal to prevent the nation from going over the fiscal cliff earlier this month.

As Robert Costa and Andrew Stiles noted in their sum up from the retreat, even though Republicans remain in control of the House, the tone of the gathering was that of a defeated party searching for answers. Given the shock felt by many in the party over the president’s re-election and the beatings they’ve received over the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff, that’s understandable. But Bill Kristol’s advice to them to “suck it up,” is exactly what they need to hear.

I think those Republicans who want to make a stand on the debt ceiling are right. Even though the odds are against them prevailing in such a battle, the party can’t simply stand by and let President Obama off the hook without at least trying to stop him by whatever means are at their disposal. That sort of surrender would split the GOP and make it harder for them to recover at the next midterm.

But the one given in this equation is that without a united caucus, House Republicans haven’t a prayer of doing anything effective to halt the country’s drift toward insolvency and to head off new taxes.

For all of their pessimism, the GOP still controls the power of the purse. President Obama may have the wind at his back right now but his political capital is finite. So is his time. If conservatives can use the coming weeks to agree on a strategy to exploit his weaknesses — such as the division among Democrats and the president’s refusal to deal with entitlement reform — their position could be stronger than they think. The question is do Boehner, Eric Cantor or even Paul Ryan have the ability to convince their colleagues that if they don’t hang together, their hopes of stopping Obama from worsening the nation’s problems are nonexistent.

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GOP Can Start Reining in the Debt

Democrats had good reason to celebrate President Obama’s victory in the fiscal cliff. The House Republican caucus wasn’t just routed; it was nearly torn apart, leading some observers as well as many of the president’s supporters to suppose that this was just the first of a series of triumphs in which their liberal agenda will be imposed on the nation as the GOP fades into insignificance. Perhaps they actually think the president can get away with making the deficit or the debt ceiling go away by merely minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin. But like other triumphalist predictions from both parties in the last decade, such expectations are bound to lead to severe disappointment. Republicans remain in control of the House and any idea that the president can impose further tax increases on the nation while failing to address the need for entitlement reform that is necessary to solve our long-term fiscal crisis is pure fantasy. That’s why so many on the left are pushing hard right now to persuade Republicans to give up the one clear piece of leverage they have over the budget process: the need to raise the debt ceiling within the next two months.

As Pete Wehner wrote last week, using that upcoming deadline to force the president to give in on spending cuts is a perilous enterprise. Past attempts to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire on the budget in this manner have failed miserably. Nevertheless, as I pointed out on Sunday, unilateral surrender on the debt ceiling is not an option for Speaker John Boehner. They must fight not only for the sake of the cause of fiscal sanity but to avoid a meltdown of their caucus that will strengthen the ability of Democrats to get their way on taxes and spending and lessening their own chances of a comeback in 2014. The question is how to do so without being seen as irresponsible hostage takers who don’t care about the damage a government shutdown would have on the economy. A number of ideas are floating around, but Dick Morris floated one yesterday in the Hill that is worth considering: phasing in limited debt ceiling hikes that would avoid a government shutdown but would not be enough to allow the president to avoid having to negotiate on entitlement reform and other spending issues.

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Democrats had good reason to celebrate President Obama’s victory in the fiscal cliff. The House Republican caucus wasn’t just routed; it was nearly torn apart, leading some observers as well as many of the president’s supporters to suppose that this was just the first of a series of triumphs in which their liberal agenda will be imposed on the nation as the GOP fades into insignificance. Perhaps they actually think the president can get away with making the deficit or the debt ceiling go away by merely minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin. But like other triumphalist predictions from both parties in the last decade, such expectations are bound to lead to severe disappointment. Republicans remain in control of the House and any idea that the president can impose further tax increases on the nation while failing to address the need for entitlement reform that is necessary to solve our long-term fiscal crisis is pure fantasy. That’s why so many on the left are pushing hard right now to persuade Republicans to give up the one clear piece of leverage they have over the budget process: the need to raise the debt ceiling within the next two months.

As Pete Wehner wrote last week, using that upcoming deadline to force the president to give in on spending cuts is a perilous enterprise. Past attempts to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire on the budget in this manner have failed miserably. Nevertheless, as I pointed out on Sunday, unilateral surrender on the debt ceiling is not an option for Speaker John Boehner. They must fight not only for the sake of the cause of fiscal sanity but to avoid a meltdown of their caucus that will strengthen the ability of Democrats to get their way on taxes and spending and lessening their own chances of a comeback in 2014. The question is how to do so without being seen as irresponsible hostage takers who don’t care about the damage a government shutdown would have on the economy. A number of ideas are floating around, but Dick Morris floated one yesterday in the Hill that is worth considering: phasing in limited debt ceiling hikes that would avoid a government shutdown but would not be enough to allow the president to avoid having to negotiate on entitlement reform and other spending issues.

As Morris writes:

The Republicans should offer to pass a bill now setting a debt limit that rises each quarter pegged to one-third of the revenue growth of the preceding quarter. Thus, two-thirds of all revenue growth — natural or due to tax hikes — would go to deficit reduction.

Republicans are unwilling to pull the trigger on default by refusing to raise the debt limit. But a bill to allow gradual increases in the debt limit, at a pace slower than revenue growth, need not trigger default. Instead, the president would be forced to prioritize his spending and borrowing so as to avoid default, pay the military and send out Social Security checks. All the rhetorical handles he has to battle an effort to kill the debt-limit increase will be gone in the face of a phased-in debt-limit hike.

Critics of the idea can certainly point out that this proposal could turn out to be as ineffectual as Boehner’s Plan B fiscal cliff plan that was dead on arrival in the House and never would have been passed in the Senate or signed by the president. We should certainly expect the president to stick to his refusal to negotiate on the debt ceiling at least initially. But Morris is right that what the GOP needs to avoid is an all-or-nothing approach to the debt that will only make Obama look like the reasonable one in the negotiation, even if his stand is no less ideological than that of his Tea Party foes.

As Pete wrote last week, conservatives need to use the upcoming months to articulate their vision for the country. But so long as they control the House they must use that body’s power of the purse to fight for the principles that the voters expect them to uphold. That requires what Morris calls a “flexible response” to a difficult fiscal and political problem. So long as Republicans are willing to raise the ceiling and avoid the shutdown that Obama believes will only strengthen his hand, they have a chance to win their point. The phased approach may not be perfect, but it is as good a scheme for thwarting Obama’s tax madness as I’ve heard in the last week.

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The GOP Can’t Surrender on Debt Ceiling

On Friday, my friend and colleague Peter Wehner wrote about the question of how the Republican Party can avoid a repeat of the fiscal cliff debacle in the upcoming months as a new deadline for raising the debt ceiling looms. Throughout the last few weeks, Pete has been spot-on in his analysis of what he rightly called the Republicans’ “losing hand” as President Obama and the Democrats forced them to accept a terrible fiscal cliff deal. Though some think the debt ceiling discussion will be very different from the cliff debate, Pete fears the GOP is headed down the same path and will suffer if they allow themselves to be portrayed as holding the country hostage again. To avoid that accusation as well as what he accurately describes as the futile pretense that the president will negotiate in good faith, he advises that they preemptively take the debt ceiling issue off the table sooner rather than later.

There is much to be said for this point of view, but I don’t believe Republicans can or should do as he says. If the Republican majority in the House of Representatives were to concede on the debt ceiling now they might as well just go home and let the Democrats have their way without the fig leaf of a debate. Doing so would tear the party apart and lessen rather than enhance their chances of winning in the 2014 midterms. Though Pete is right about the calamity of a rerun of the GOP fiascos of 1995 and 2011 and 2012 when they were beaten in such confrontations, there is more than one way to lose a political fight. As much as House Republicans need to worry about being marginalized as extremists who are willing to allegedly sabotage the economy to make an ideological point, they also need to worry about playing the role of the pliant opposition that is unable and unwilling to offer a stark alternative to the Democrats.

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On Friday, my friend and colleague Peter Wehner wrote about the question of how the Republican Party can avoid a repeat of the fiscal cliff debacle in the upcoming months as a new deadline for raising the debt ceiling looms. Throughout the last few weeks, Pete has been spot-on in his analysis of what he rightly called the Republicans’ “losing hand” as President Obama and the Democrats forced them to accept a terrible fiscal cliff deal. Though some think the debt ceiling discussion will be very different from the cliff debate, Pete fears the GOP is headed down the same path and will suffer if they allow themselves to be portrayed as holding the country hostage again. To avoid that accusation as well as what he accurately describes as the futile pretense that the president will negotiate in good faith, he advises that they preemptively take the debt ceiling issue off the table sooner rather than later.

There is much to be said for this point of view, but I don’t believe Republicans can or should do as he says. If the Republican majority in the House of Representatives were to concede on the debt ceiling now they might as well just go home and let the Democrats have their way without the fig leaf of a debate. Doing so would tear the party apart and lessen rather than enhance their chances of winning in the 2014 midterms. Though Pete is right about the calamity of a rerun of the GOP fiascos of 1995 and 2011 and 2012 when they were beaten in such confrontations, there is more than one way to lose a political fight. As much as House Republicans need to worry about being marginalized as extremists who are willing to allegedly sabotage the economy to make an ideological point, they also need to worry about playing the role of the pliant opposition that is unable and unwilling to offer a stark alternative to the Democrats.

Pete believes that since Republicans will have to give in on the debt ceiling eventually and will inevitably come out the losers in any such confrontation, they’ll do better by quickly discarding the illusion that they have any real leverage over the president. Instead, he thinks they should pick their fights carefully and use the coming months to put forward a competing vision of government that will bring us back to fiscal health. There is, he writes, no alternative but to patiently wait for the inevitable moment when the public tires of “Obamaism.” It will only be then that Republicans can implement a growth agenda based on low taxes and a far-reaching reform of entitlements and other spending that will ensure the nation’s fiscal health.

But while no one on the right should assume that they are in a strong position on the debt ceiling, it is not as weak as the one they were stuck with on the fiscal cliff. With the White House and the Senate obsessed with passing tax increases on the wealthy for ideological reasons and equally determined to avoid dealing with entitlements and spending, there was no way the GOP could stick to its own principles without allowing taxes to go up on all Americans.

Now that Obama has gotten his tax hike on the rich, the argument that the GOP is holding the nation hostage for the sake of millionaires is effectively neutered. The president arrogantly assumes that his status as a re-elected president is so secure that he can dictate not only the outcome of the negotiations but also even the nature of the debate. But as we approach the moment when the current debt ceiling will expire and a government shutdown is possible, the holdup is not a controversial Republican pledge to not raise taxes under any circumstance but a Democratic refusal to entertain substantive entitlement reform. The political advantage he gained in the past could disappear once the public understands that it is his arrogant refusal to deal that is the holdup rather than Tea Party extremism.

In the president’s favor is one of the factors that helped his re-election campaign: a liberal mainstream media that continues to paint the Republican position as radical rather than reformist. It’s entirely possible that any attempt to use the debt ceiling to force the president off his high horse on spending will be portrayed as a radical putsch that the reasonable commander-in-chief is right to oppose. If an already bruised GOP House doesn’t bow to his ultimatum, they will get another thorough working over in the press.

But what he fails to take into account is what will happen if they run up the white flag on the debt ceiling without a fight.

A surrender on those terms would lead to the sundering of the GOP that could derail what is left of Speaker John Boehner’s already shaky hold on his caucus. Without even the semblance of a fight, it won’t be just a couple of dozen Tea Partiers roaming off the reservation but a full-scale revolt. More than that, the base of the Republican Party that elected a conservative House majority will be sent a message that their votes were obtained with false promises. Any notion that an aroused conservative core of the party could be enticed to the polls in 2014 to reverse the Obama agenda will be lost.

As much as Boehner needs to avoid being fitted for the sort of Newt Gingrich clown suit that will ensure this coming debate ends as badly for the GOP as did their 1995 government shutdown, he also knows that the specter of Gingrich’s predecessor as head of the House Republicans looms over his efforts.

Bob Michel, the minority leader of the House of Representatives from 1981 to 1995, was an honorable public servant but he is also a symbol of everything that was wrong with the Republicans before the Gingrich-led Republican revolution. Many politicians and liberals in the media may lament what they consider the change from the more sedate political culture of that era to the angrier and less collegial style of politics that is practiced today. Indeed, they see a willingness of Republicans to use deadlines like the debt ceiling or the fiscal cliff to advance their cause as unthinkable breaches of courtesy that show how far out the GOP has become. But conservatives understand that when dealing with liberals it is just that go-along-to-get-along philosophy that is perhaps unfairly associated with the Michel era that led to Republicans being co-opted into backing up a corrupt and sinking system that is sending the country careening along the path to bankruptcy.

They can’t let that happen. There is a vast difference between the deferential style of a Michel-led GOP minority and what Pete thinks would be good politics and good policy now. But if Republicans don’t put up a fight and hold the president’s feet to the fire now, that will be seen by most Republicans and Democrats as a distinction without a difference.

The only way for House Republicans to be able to act as any kind of a check on the president’s plans for tax increases, more spending (though it will be called “investment”) and functional status quo on the chronic problem of entitlements in the next two years will be to stick together. That won’t be possible if Boehner caves.

There are worse things for the GOP than being branded as radicals by the president and his friends in the media. If John Boehner unilaterally surrenders on the debt ceiling, they will find that out.

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Boehner Reelected Despite Opposition

Despite some flimsy hype that 20 Republicans were going to turn against John Boehner at the speaker vote today, nothing of the sort ended up happening. Boehner won another term, with 220 votes (considering the number of abstentions, he needed 214 votes to win a majority). But he did get some retaliation from 12 Republicans who either voted for other members or sat out the vote. Dave Weigel describes the scene:

The tiny rebellion started early in the roll call, when the chair presiding over the House called on Rep. Justin Amash. Every Republican was supposed to vote John Boehner for speaker. But the Michigan sophomore cast a vote for Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho sophomore who happened to be sitting stony-faced next to him. The House floor filled with awkward “Oooohs” and the occasional “Who?”

The early part of the alphabet turned out to be trouble. Rep. Paul Broun voted for Allen West—who lost his seat last year—to become speaker. John Bridenstine, a new member from Oklahoma who upset an incumbent in a 2012 primary, voted for Eric Cantor. When Cantor’s turn came, he said “John. Boehner.” with the tone of voice you’d use on a telemarketer who put you on hold for three hours.

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Despite some flimsy hype that 20 Republicans were going to turn against John Boehner at the speaker vote today, nothing of the sort ended up happening. Boehner won another term, with 220 votes (considering the number of abstentions, he needed 214 votes to win a majority). But he did get some retaliation from 12 Republicans who either voted for other members or sat out the vote. Dave Weigel describes the scene:

The tiny rebellion started early in the roll call, when the chair presiding over the House called on Rep. Justin Amash. Every Republican was supposed to vote John Boehner for speaker. But the Michigan sophomore cast a vote for Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho sophomore who happened to be sitting stony-faced next to him. The House floor filled with awkward “Oooohs” and the occasional “Who?”

The early part of the alphabet turned out to be trouble. Rep. Paul Broun voted for Allen West—who lost his seat last year—to become speaker. John Bridenstine, a new member from Oklahoma who upset an incumbent in a 2012 primary, voted for Eric Cantor. When Cantor’s turn came, he said “John. Boehner.” with the tone of voice you’d use on a telemarketer who put you on hold for three hours.

Boehner came out of it with some bruises, but it wasn’t the civil war the left, and segments of the right, were hoping for. And that’s a good thing for Republicans, who would be in a weakened position if there was a bitter dispute over the gavel going into the debt ceiling debate.

There was never a competitive alternative for the position, anyway. Nobody in leadership was publicly contesting it, contrary to speculation that Majority Leader Eric Cantor was making moves behind the scenes. And based on his gruff vote for Boehner today, it sounds like Cantor was not happy about those rumors.

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Sandy Funding is Earmark Revival

Speaker John Boehner’s since-rescinded decision to put off a vote on a bill providing disaster relief to the victims of Hurricane Sandy turned out to be another black eye for House Republicans. The televised rage of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over the move was just one among many condemnations that were shown over and again on TV news channels. It fit right into the prevailing media narrative about congressional dysfunction as well as the idea that the House is led by extremists who don’t care about the Northeast. Given that the hurricane gave an unanticipated boost to President Obama’s re-election (though it almost certainly didn’t affect the outcome), Sandy appears to be a gift that just keeps on giving for Democrats.

Boehner had no choice but to backtrack on allowing a vote on the relief bill since to stick to his position in the face of so much opposition, including the disagreement of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, was impossible. But before we file away this episode as just another example of an unforced error on the part of the GOP, it is vital that the objections to the bill be understood outside of the context of the grandstanding on the part of Christie and others, such as Rep. Peter King. Far from being a pure relief package that hard-hearted Republicans were obstructing, the bill is a stereotypical piece of legislative pork filled with funding for projects that are unrelated to recovery from Sandy’s devastation, but which feathers the nests of supporters of various senators and members of Congress as well as federal agencies. Seen in this light, the lambasting of Boehner is just a cover for a revival of a practice the speaker and other reform-minded members thought they had already gotten ride of: earmarking.

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Speaker John Boehner’s since-rescinded decision to put off a vote on a bill providing disaster relief to the victims of Hurricane Sandy turned out to be another black eye for House Republicans. The televised rage of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over the move was just one among many condemnations that were shown over and again on TV news channels. It fit right into the prevailing media narrative about congressional dysfunction as well as the idea that the House is led by extremists who don’t care about the Northeast. Given that the hurricane gave an unanticipated boost to President Obama’s re-election (though it almost certainly didn’t affect the outcome), Sandy appears to be a gift that just keeps on giving for Democrats.

Boehner had no choice but to backtrack on allowing a vote on the relief bill since to stick to his position in the face of so much opposition, including the disagreement of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, was impossible. But before we file away this episode as just another example of an unforced error on the part of the GOP, it is vital that the objections to the bill be understood outside of the context of the grandstanding on the part of Christie and others, such as Rep. Peter King. Far from being a pure relief package that hard-hearted Republicans were obstructing, the bill is a stereotypical piece of legislative pork filled with funding for projects that are unrelated to recovery from Sandy’s devastation, but which feathers the nests of supporters of various senators and members of Congress as well as federal agencies. Seen in this light, the lambasting of Boehner is just a cover for a revival of a practice the speaker and other reform-minded members thought they had already gotten ride of: earmarking.

Earmarks had been banned by the House but under the cover of sympathy for Sandy, they have made a remarkable comeback. Here are just a few of the outrageous items that somehow were slipped into the $60.4 billion relief package:

 * $150 million for Alaskan fisheries

* $41 million for military facilities such as Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

* $8 million to buy cars for the Justice and Homeland Security departments

* $3.1 million for an animal disease center

* $2 million for repair of the roofs of the Smithsonian Institution museums

* $58 million for reforestation on private land

* $100 million for Head Start day care centers

* $17 billion for Community Development Block grants that act as slush funds for members of Congress

While much of the money in the bill is intended for and will go to genuine victims of Sandy, these items demonstrate that a great deal of the funds allocated here will not do so. That’s why the mockery of the calls for accountability by congressional critics of the bill is mere partisan flummery. The fact that such practices are traditional is no defense of their continuation.

The willingness of the mainstream media to jump on Boehner for slowing down the rush to pass this pork-laden bill gives the lie to all of the lip service being paid to the idea of reducing spending and ending the corruption endemic to the earmark process. Though relief for Sandy’s victims can and should be passed, natural disasters should not be used as a flimsy cover for corrupt earmarks and patronage schemes.

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Boehner’s Enemies

John Boehner isn’t resigning from his position as House speaker–despite dubious Internet rumors to the contrary–but there is clearly a campaign to try to push him out. Breitbart’s website, RedState, and a group called American Majority Action seem to be at the forefront.  

Boehner was already under attack from the right over last night’s fiscal cliff deal. It didn’t help that he punted on a Hurricane Sandy aid bill, sending cable-soundbite kings Chris Christie and Rep. Peter King into histrionic fits. Boehner likely calculated that the pork-filled Sandy aid bill would hurt him with conservatives after the fiscal cliff deal, so he sought a delay. But Breitbart’s website speculates that Boehner had more sinister motives:

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John Boehner isn’t resigning from his position as House speaker–despite dubious Internet rumors to the contrary–but there is clearly a campaign to try to push him out. Breitbart’s website, RedState, and a group called American Majority Action seem to be at the forefront.  

Boehner was already under attack from the right over last night’s fiscal cliff deal. It didn’t help that he punted on a Hurricane Sandy aid bill, sending cable-soundbite kings Chris Christie and Rep. Peter King into histrionic fits. Boehner likely calculated that the pork-filled Sandy aid bill would hurt him with conservatives after the fiscal cliff deal, so he sought a delay. But Breitbart’s website speculates that Boehner had more sinister motives:

Cantor wanted the bill passed before the new Congress starts on Thursday, too. And it looks like Boehner was going to go along with it and let the vote happen but canceled it all of a sudden out of bitterness after his top two deputies–Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy–voted against the “fiscal cliff” deal that passed late Tuesday. Boehner voted for the fiscal cliff deal, and Cantor’s and McCarthy’s move may mean they’ll challenge Boehner’s speakership.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel downplayed the Speaker’s reversal on providing aid to Sandy victims quickly. “The speaker is committed to getting this bill passed this month,” Steel said. Aides to leadership have confirmed Boehner has killed any effort to provide Sandy victims aid until next Congress.

I don’t know if Eric Cantor is actively trying to unseat Boehner behind the scenes. But if he’s not, stories like the one above make it seem like he is–and that can’t be helpful for him. It’s true that he’s the one of the few members who would have a real shot at Boehner’s position, but Boehner will most likely prevail. If it looks like Cantor’s stabbing the speaker in the back–and then loses–that’s a problem.

As Mark Levin writes on Facebook ,“I’m told Cantor’s office is leaking all over Boehner today, hoping to replace him as speaker. As far as I am concerned, Boehner, Cantor, & McCarthy need to go. All 3 of them.”

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The Boehner-Cantor Rift and the Speaker Election

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor broke with Speaker John Boehner on the fiscal cliff deal vote yesterday, fueling speculation that he may challenge Boehner in Thursday’s Speaker election. At the Guardian, Jim Antle writes

It’s rare for the top two members of the House leadership to split on an important vote. Bob Michel, the hapless leader of the House Republicans during a long period in the minority, and Newt Gingrich voted differently on the 1990 “read my lips” tax increase. They split again over the 1994 assault weapons ban.

Even less common is a House speaker and majority leader going their separate ways on big-ticket legislation. The last major example is when the Democratic-controlled House debate funding President George W Bush’s surge in Iraq. House speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed the measure to proceed to the floor and voted no. House majority leader Steny Hoyer voted yes.

House speakers typically don’t even vote at all unless it is necessary to break a tie. So it may have been a clarifying moment when speaker of the House John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor parted ways on the deal that ended the long national nightmare known as the fiscal cliff. Boehner voted for the bipartisan agreement negotiated between Vice-President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Cantor breathed the final moments of life into the opposition.

As Antle notes, despite conservative frustration with Boehner, Cantor is the only one who could potentially rally enough members behind him to seize the gavel. And Breitbart reports that there may be growing support for it:

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor broke with Speaker John Boehner on the fiscal cliff deal vote yesterday, fueling speculation that he may challenge Boehner in Thursday’s Speaker election. At the Guardian, Jim Antle writes

It’s rare for the top two members of the House leadership to split on an important vote. Bob Michel, the hapless leader of the House Republicans during a long period in the minority, and Newt Gingrich voted differently on the 1990 “read my lips” tax increase. They split again over the 1994 assault weapons ban.

Even less common is a House speaker and majority leader going their separate ways on big-ticket legislation. The last major example is when the Democratic-controlled House debate funding President George W Bush’s surge in Iraq. House speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed the measure to proceed to the floor and voted no. House majority leader Steny Hoyer voted yes.

House speakers typically don’t even vote at all unless it is necessary to break a tie. So it may have been a clarifying moment when speaker of the House John Boehner and House majority leader Eric Cantor parted ways on the deal that ended the long national nightmare known as the fiscal cliff. Boehner voted for the bipartisan agreement negotiated between Vice-President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Cantor breathed the final moments of life into the opposition.

As Antle notes, despite conservative frustration with Boehner, Cantor is the only one who could potentially rally enough members behind him to seize the gavel. And Breitbart reports that there may be growing support for it:

“At least 20 House Republican members have gotten together, discussed this and want to unseat Speaker Boehner–and are willing to do what it takes to do it,” [American Action Majority spokesperson Ron] Meyer said. “That’s more than enough to get the job done, but the one problem these guys face is they need a leader to coalesce behind.” 

Meyer said the conservatives have considered House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) to take the helm after Boehner is knocked out. His opposition from the right to the Senate fiscal cliff deal that Vice President Joe Biden cut with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a sign Cantor may try for the job. 

AMA is hardly the only conservative entity aware of the rekindled effort afoot to unseat Boehner. Another conservative with inside knowledge of the effort told Breitbart News that the movement has “new focus and juice,” and if enough members go to Boehner telling him they won’t support his re-election, that Americans should “watch for him to resign gracefully.”

AMA has been one of Boehner’s most vocal critics, so it’s not clear how much of this is just wishful thinking and how much reflects an actual burgeoning revolt. For one, Cantor’s office has downplayed his rift with Boehner, saying he stands behind the current speaker. And many members might be concerned about shaking up House GOP leadership right before the debt ceiling debate. 

Then there’s the question of how much of this the Boehner opposition brought on itself. After all, the speaker’s Plan B deal that was killed by his internal critics was better in comparison to what ended up going through yesterday. Conservatives have legitimate complaints about the final deal, and legitimate grievances about the closed-door process of negotiations. But Boehner had to play the hand he was dealt, and unfortunately for Republicans it’s been stacked against them since the November election.

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The GOP’s Weak Hand

In her Wall Street Journal column, Kimberley Strassel writes about two lessons the GOP should take from the fiscal cliff negotiations. One is that President Obama is not, and will never be, a serious negotiating partner. The second is that a house divided is a losing house. Ms. Strassel goes on to counsel the GOP to internalize these recent experiences, since the political dynamic won’t change much. In the future, she writes, Republicans “can continue the folly of believing this president will compromise” — or they can “realize that [Obama] will never be reasonable on taxes — and so they can’t give anything away.”

Ms. Strassel is always intelligent and always worth reading. But in this case there are some elements to the story that may complicate her analysis. It could be House Speaker John Boehner, based on his previous negotiations with Obama, went into the talks with the president hopeful but unconvinced he would get a deal this time. Still, Boehner may have made the calculation that he had to offer a plan that was viewed by the public as reasonable and flexible. Why? Because many Americans have (unfortunately) bought into Obama’s critique of the GOP as being obstinate. That is, even if Obama was not intent on compromising with Republicans, Boehner felt like he had to offer a deal that demonstrated the GOP was not being obstructionist and unyielding. So the speaker first offered raising $800 billion in revenues and then offered a second plan raising taxes on those making a million dollars or more.

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In her Wall Street Journal column, Kimberley Strassel writes about two lessons the GOP should take from the fiscal cliff negotiations. One is that President Obama is not, and will never be, a serious negotiating partner. The second is that a house divided is a losing house. Ms. Strassel goes on to counsel the GOP to internalize these recent experiences, since the political dynamic won’t change much. In the future, she writes, Republicans “can continue the folly of believing this president will compromise” — or they can “realize that [Obama] will never be reasonable on taxes — and so they can’t give anything away.”

Ms. Strassel is always intelligent and always worth reading. But in this case there are some elements to the story that may complicate her analysis. It could be House Speaker John Boehner, based on his previous negotiations with Obama, went into the talks with the president hopeful but unconvinced he would get a deal this time. Still, Boehner may have made the calculation that he had to offer a plan that was viewed by the public as reasonable and flexible. Why? Because many Americans have (unfortunately) bought into Obama’s critique of the GOP as being obstinate. That is, even if Obama was not intent on compromising with Republicans, Boehner felt like he had to offer a deal that demonstrated the GOP was not being obstructionist and unyielding. So the speaker first offered raising $800 billion in revenues and then offered a second plan raising taxes on those making a million dollars or more.

As for the House sticking together: The premise here is that in presenting a unified front, Republicans can force Obama to “fully own his mistakes” on issues like the stimulus legislation and ObamaCare. But the difference is that the stimulus package and the Affordable Care Act were considerably less popular than Obama’s stand on raising taxes on the highest income brackets. That’s why Republicans were able to stay united on the former but have broken ranks on the latter. It may be that in this particular circumstance, if Republicans stand shoulder-to-shoulder against raising any taxes, even on those making a million dollars or more, it won’t have the effect of strengthening the GOP but rather weakening it. Going over the fiscal cliff would allow the president to come back with a proposal early next year in which he cuts taxes for 98 percent of the tax-paying public, which is hardly ideal for the Republican Party.

To state the obvious: There are no good options for Republicans, who are playing an exceedingly weak hand. The president knows it. Republicans therefore have to find a way to extricate themselves from this mess while inflicting minimum damage on themselves and the country. They have to embrace a tactical retreat in order to live to fight another day. Agreeing to a bad deal in order to avoid an even worse (political and economic) outcome is not an appealing choice for Republicans. But it may be the most prudent one.

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Cliff Deal Could Shift Public Opinion

If reports filtering out of Washington are to be believed there is a fair chance that a compromise will be reached sometime over the next three days that will head off the most unpopular aspect of the impending financial crisis: across the board tax increases for all Americans. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the compromise which may be crafted between the White House and the leaders of the House and Senate will avoid dealing with the spending cuts mandated by the sequestration process including devastating decreases for the nation’s defense.

President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have given every indication that they think it is in their interest to see the nation head over the fiscal cliff making any sort of compromise appear like a last minute rescue no matter how unfortunate its terms might be. Most Americans are of the opinion that any deal that would limit the scope of a tax increase is better than no action at all. They are right about that but the fact that it appears impossible to do anything about spending either in the short term or the long right now represents a massive failure on the part of the government. While up until now much of the public still appears to be blaming the mess on recalcitrant Republicans who oppose any tax increases, the unwillingness of the president and Senate Democrats to budge on entitlement spending even in the shadow of potential disaster may eventually lead to a shift in opinion.

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If reports filtering out of Washington are to be believed there is a fair chance that a compromise will be reached sometime over the next three days that will head off the most unpopular aspect of the impending financial crisis: across the board tax increases for all Americans. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the compromise which may be crafted between the White House and the leaders of the House and Senate will avoid dealing with the spending cuts mandated by the sequestration process including devastating decreases for the nation’s defense.

President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have given every indication that they think it is in their interest to see the nation head over the fiscal cliff making any sort of compromise appear like a last minute rescue no matter how unfortunate its terms might be. Most Americans are of the opinion that any deal that would limit the scope of a tax increase is better than no action at all. They are right about that but the fact that it appears impossible to do anything about spending either in the short term or the long right now represents a massive failure on the part of the government. While up until now much of the public still appears to be blaming the mess on recalcitrant Republicans who oppose any tax increases, the unwillingness of the president and Senate Democrats to budge on entitlement spending even in the shadow of potential disaster may eventually lead to a shift in opinion.

If some sort of narrow deal is reached in the coming days, it will make it all the more necessary for Republicans to be even more determined to do something about spending in January. It is at that point that an overconfident President Obama may discover that once he has his long sought after tax hike on the wealthy, the GOP stand against more government spending may start looking a lot more reasonable to most Americans.

The president has been able to demagogue the issue of the rich paying what he says is their fair share and thereby avoided being held accountable for the massive increase in the national debt on his watch. Yet once taxes cease to be the sticking point, it will be difficult if not impossible for him and his party to use the soak-the-rich theme to evade a discussion about how to pay for out-of-control entitlement spending.

House Speaker John Boehner seemed to lose control of the Republican caucus last week in a battle in which conservatives opposed to a tax increase on anyone were numerous enough to prevent his Plan B compromise from passing. That was a blow to his prestige and leadership. But in the coming weeks he could recoup his losses as a united GOP will have the chance to stand up to the Democrats on entitlement reform.

It is that prospect of a new debate in which he will no longer be able to rely on the hoary claims of fairness that Obama rightly fears. It can only be hoped that there are enough Democrats in the House and the Senate who are sufficiently concerned about the impact of the fiscal cliff on their constituents in order to override the desire of the president and Reid to send the country over it.

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America Edges Ever Closer to the Fiscal Cliff

Some thoughts on the Republicans pulling their Plan B tax bill from the House floor last night:

1. Speaker Boehner was embarrassed and is badly weakened. He may not be deposed since Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other key Republicans were by his side during negotiations, and they supported Plan B. Mr. Boehner is also generally well liked within his caucus. There’s no obvious person who could challenge him and win. And everyone knows the speaker was forced to play a bad hand. Still, this was a humiliation for Mr. Boehner. He may not recover from this vote of no confidence from his own members.   

2. It’s possible that a new deal emerges – but it would probably have to come from the Senate. And even if Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell were to find common ground – which is far from certain – a new plan would also need to pass in the House. And as last night showed, that simply may not happen.

3. House Republicans have now managed to put themselves into a situation in which if we do go over the “fiscal cliff,” early next year President Obama will propose tax cuts for somewhere around 98 percent of the American people. If House Republicans go along with Obama, then it may dawn on them that Plan B was a significantly better deal from their perspective, since it limited tax increases to those making a million dollars or more rather than whatever lower figure Obama will propose. 

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Some thoughts on the Republicans pulling their Plan B tax bill from the House floor last night:

1. Speaker Boehner was embarrassed and is badly weakened. He may not be deposed since Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other key Republicans were by his side during negotiations, and they supported Plan B. Mr. Boehner is also generally well liked within his caucus. There’s no obvious person who could challenge him and win. And everyone knows the speaker was forced to play a bad hand. Still, this was a humiliation for Mr. Boehner. He may not recover from this vote of no confidence from his own members.   

2. It’s possible that a new deal emerges – but it would probably have to come from the Senate. And even if Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell were to find common ground – which is far from certain – a new plan would also need to pass in the House. And as last night showed, that simply may not happen.

3. House Republicans have now managed to put themselves into a situation in which if we do go over the “fiscal cliff,” early next year President Obama will propose tax cuts for somewhere around 98 percent of the American people. If House Republicans go along with Obama, then it may dawn on them that Plan B was a significantly better deal from their perspective, since it limited tax increases to those making a million dollars or more rather than whatever lower figure Obama will propose. 

If House Republicans don’t go along with Obama, then they will vote to prevent tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people simply because tax cuts weren’t also given to the top income earners. I understand that Republicans will have supported tax cuts for 100 percent of the public rather than 98 percent. Still, the political effect of all this may well be that Barack Obama will have created a situation in which he’s viewed as the champion of tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans. That would be a stunning achievement by Obama and House Republicans, who could hardly have done more damage to themselves if they tried.

4. The results of this week – and especially if we go over the fiscal cliff – will be that the Republican Party will look increasingly extreme and adamantine. Even if you believe that characterization is completely or largely untrue and unfair, it exists, and conservatism has to take into account the world as it is.

Edmund Burke, in defining statesmanship, wrote, “We compensate, we reconcile, we balance. We are able to unite into one consistent whole the various anomalies and contending principles that are found in the minds and affairs of men.” That sensibility has been missing among some House Republicans, I think – many of whom seem to have convinced themselves that they made a stand on principle that will redound to their credit. They may be right, but count me skeptical. House conservatives got what they wanted, which is no deal and (perhaps) a trip over the fiscal cliff with their flag flying. If that happens, I suspect the GOP, conservatism, and the tax cutting cause will all suffer. Which may eventually underscore for them why prudence is such an important political virtue.

5. President Obama is far from blameless in all this. He never gave John Boehner enough in exchange for Boehner’s willingness to break with a decades-long GOP commitment not to raise tax rates. If Obama wanted to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, he once again showed that he is a fairly inept negotiator. If he does want to go over the fiscal cliff, he may become quite familiar with the axiom, “Be careful what you wish for.” Because as Bob Woodward put it, “This is the Obama era, it is [the president’s] economy. Speaker Boehner’s an important player and this is significant, but it is Obama’s job to lead and define — so if there re negative consequences here, particularly in the economy, it is going to be, ‘In the Obama era, things didn’t get fixed.’”

6. Quite apart from who deserves the most blame for where we are, there is something slightly depressing in terms of the failure to govern in a responsible and reasonable way. Our political system right now is not only unable to rise to the moment and confront the challenges we face; it seems to be badly broken and staggeringly incompetent. The lack of trust in, and growing cynicism toward, our governing institutions will only increase. And that is not a good thing for a self-governing republic.

In a terrific essay on the late, great James Q. Wilson, his former student John DiIulio, Jr. wrote, “During his last decade, Wilson worried more than he had previously about what, in the closing paragraph of his textbook [on American government], he described as ‘a decline in public confidence in those who manage…government. We expect more and more from government,’ [Wilson] observed, ‘but are less and less certain that we will get it, or get it in a form and at a cost that we find acceptable.’”

If Professor Wilson was alive today, I imagine his concerns would be even greater about the country he loved so much and so well. So should ours.

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The GOP Really Hits Bottom

Those Republicans who thought their party hit bottom on Election Day were wrong. Mitt Romney’s defeat was a blow, but the pitiful collapse of House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B legislation on the budget showed that heading into his second term, President Obama’s opposition is so divided as to be rendered useless.

The importance of Boehner’s failure to keep his caucus relatively united, so as to strengthen his hand in negotiations to avoid having the nation go over the fiscal cliff, is not a minor story or one that will be soon forgotten in the 24/7 news cycle world. It is a signal to the Democrats that though they do not control the lower house of Congress—a not inconsiderable obstacle to President Obama’s hopes of implementing the liberal wish list of programs and legislation in his second term—neither do Boehner and the GOP leadership. That will not just make it easier for Obama to face down the Republicans in any confrontation. It leaves the Republicans prey to an ongoing dispiriting civil war between establishment types and Tea Partiers that will enhance the chances that the president will get more of what he wants in the next two years.

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Those Republicans who thought their party hit bottom on Election Day were wrong. Mitt Romney’s defeat was a blow, but the pitiful collapse of House Speaker John Boehner’s Plan B legislation on the budget showed that heading into his second term, President Obama’s opposition is so divided as to be rendered useless.

The importance of Boehner’s failure to keep his caucus relatively united, so as to strengthen his hand in negotiations to avoid having the nation go over the fiscal cliff, is not a minor story or one that will be soon forgotten in the 24/7 news cycle world. It is a signal to the Democrats that though they do not control the lower house of Congress—a not inconsiderable obstacle to President Obama’s hopes of implementing the liberal wish list of programs and legislation in his second term—neither do Boehner and the GOP leadership. That will not just make it easier for Obama to face down the Republicans in any confrontation. It leaves the Republicans prey to an ongoing dispiriting civil war between establishment types and Tea Partiers that will enhance the chances that the president will get more of what he wants in the next two years.

To state this fact is not to deliver a judgment that the objections to Plan B were either unprincipled or unsound economics. Boehner’s GOP critics are right when they continue to argue that Washington has a problem with spending, not taxes. Raising anyone’s taxes, even the millionaires that Boehner’s proposal targeted, won’t cure the deficit. Nor are they wrong to worry that the White House intends to renege on any promises to carry out the entitlement reform that is necessary to dealing with the problem at the heart of the country’s fiscal illness.

But in refusing even to give their leader their votes on behalf of what was nothing more than a negotiating ploy, they have created a situation where they have no effective leadership. Boehner must now crawl back to the negotiating table with Obama and accept an even less palatable compromise that will not have the support of most Republicans, or actually let the deadline expire. The latter would mean allowing taxes to rise on everyone in the country as well as the implementation of the sequestration process that will mean ruinous cuts in defense.

All this means that the Republicans will be heading into the New Year in an even weaker condition than they looked to be after losing the presidency, the Senate and having their House majority trimmed on Election Day. This sets them up for a lousy 2013 in which the president will have the whip hand over them throughout the coming months as he seeks to pass the next round of liberal legislation.

But as bad as this moment is for conservatives, it should be remembered that nothing in politics, even stinging election defeats and humiliating legislative debacles like the one they experienced last night, lasts forever. It is no accident that those Republicans expected to vie for the 2016 presidential nomination have been relatively quiet during the last weeks. Though Mitt Romney and now John Boehner have failed, there will be plenty of opportunities for people like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and others to shine during the next two years. There will also be many opportunities for the president to demonstrate the same poor judgment on both domestic and foreign issues that made his first term a lackluster affair. The GOP may have just hit bottom, but that also 

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The Right’s Latest Meaningless Purity Test

In a strange about-face today, FreedomWorks has decided to withdraw its support of House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” a day after declaring its support for the plan. Yesterday Dean Clancy, legislative counsel for the group, wrote “Speaker Boehner: Congratulations, you are moving in the right direction. You woke up and realized you have the power to say No to the Left. Stay the course. Go all the way to the FreedomWorks plan, and you’ll have it made in the shade.” This comes as the Heritage Foundation continues to beat the drums against Boehner’s plan, calling it, “the latest unsatisfactory proposal put forward by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to avoid the fiscal cliff. Boehner’s plan would protect most Americans, except for millionaires, from a tax hike. But even this is a poor fix because it ignores the real problem: spending.” Heritage’s more flexible legislative arm (due to tax restraints on the non-profit Heritage Foundation), declared, “Heritage Action opposes ‘Plan B’ and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.” Club for Growth has also been forceful with its opposition to the plan, joining smaller Tea Party groups. 

While conservatives are eating their own over the plan, Senate Democrats have announced that they have no plans to vote on Boehner’s “Plan B,” even if it passes a House vote, as many are promising it will. The bill will therefore be dead on arrival, despite the fact that Senate Democrats voted for a similar plan almost exactly two years ago. There are no other plans under discussion from congressional Republicans, who are spending as much time fighting with conservative groups as they are with their Democratic counterparts. 

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In a strange about-face today, FreedomWorks has decided to withdraw its support of House Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” a day after declaring its support for the plan. Yesterday Dean Clancy, legislative counsel for the group, wrote “Speaker Boehner: Congratulations, you are moving in the right direction. You woke up and realized you have the power to say No to the Left. Stay the course. Go all the way to the FreedomWorks plan, and you’ll have it made in the shade.” This comes as the Heritage Foundation continues to beat the drums against Boehner’s plan, calling it, “the latest unsatisfactory proposal put forward by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to avoid the fiscal cliff. Boehner’s plan would protect most Americans, except for millionaires, from a tax hike. But even this is a poor fix because it ignores the real problem: spending.” Heritage’s more flexible legislative arm (due to tax restraints on the non-profit Heritage Foundation), declared, “Heritage Action opposes ‘Plan B’ and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.” Club for Growth has also been forceful with its opposition to the plan, joining smaller Tea Party groups. 

While conservatives are eating their own over the plan, Senate Democrats have announced that they have no plans to vote on Boehner’s “Plan B,” even if it passes a House vote, as many are promising it will. The bill will therefore be dead on arrival, despite the fact that Senate Democrats voted for a similar plan almost exactly two years ago. There are no other plans under discussion from congressional Republicans, who are spending as much time fighting with conservative groups as they are with their Democratic counterparts. 

Could there possibly be a bigger waste of time than what is currently taking place? Conservatives are at each other’s throats fighting over a plan that has no chance thanks to a Democratically controlled Senate and White House. Once upon a time, conservatives understood that the only chance at passing conservative legislation was by holding those branches of government, as Philip Klein pointed this out today in the Washington Examiner,

If all it takes to enact a conservative agenda is to hold one chamber of Congress, then why did conservative activists work so hard for Republicans to win control of the Senate? Why did they spill so much sweat in an effort to defeat Obama, even though it meant supporting Mitt Romney?

Klein goes on to say “Conservatives should acknowledge that some sort of compromise is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean they have to swallow anything that Boehner cooks up.” While these groups don’t have to go along with Boehner’s plan, if they plan to spend their precious political capital fighting “Plan B” they need to at least have an alternative that House Republicans can work with. While many of these groups have their own proposals, none stands a chance at passage through a Democratically controlled Senate, nor will Obama sign them.

During the primary season when opposition to Mitt Romney was at its peak, a group of conservatives started a group called the Not Mitt Romney coalition. The group spent its time fighting the eventual choice of Romney as the Republican nominee. From early on, it became clear that Romney was the most viable of all possible picks in a slim Republican field of candidates, and despite this, conservatives continued to fight his nomination instead of trying to find and recruit an alternative who would be more acceptable to their base (with the exception of the Weekly Standard‘s editor Bill Kristol, who famously spent months trying to draft reluctant Republicans into running). By the time Romney secured the nomination, a great deal of his campaign’s energy, money and political capital was spent battling his eventual nomination with fellow Republicans instead of building his case against Barack Obama. In campaign post-mortems, many of Romney’s top staff attributed their loss in part to this lengthy and nasty primary battle. 

If conservatives have learned anything from that primary experience, it’s that along with principled stands against objectionable legislation or politicians, they need to provide acceptable alternatives. It’s easy to declare that something or someone fails the conservative litmus test, but in order for Republicans to move past the label as the “Party of No” (which inevitably leads to plummeting approval ratings), they need to start offering reasonable solutions. 

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Heading Over the Cliff With Plan B?

With the House Republican leadership sticking to its plans to push through a Plan B tax and spending bill today, it’s an open question as to whether House Speaker John Boehner is really bluffing about his proposal as the party’s final answer to the White House in the fiscal cliff negotiations. Considering that there is no chance that the Democrats will allow the GOP plan to pass in the Senate and that reportedly even the staffs of the two sides are not talking, right now it is entirely possible that the standoff will result in there being no deal in place prior to the Christmas holiday next week. Or is it?

There are many observers in Washington and around the nation who are convinced that Plan B is merely an elaborate bluff designed to smoke more concessions out of an administration that for all of the president’s bluster is as desperate to avoid the ruinous tax increases and spending cuts that a failure to make a deal will bring as any Republican. But considering the enormous difficulty that Boehner is having in lining up the 218 votes from his own caucus that he will need to pass his legislation, imagining him going back to Republicans in the next couple of weeks to ask for their support for what is certain to be an even more unpalatable compromise deal seems a stretch. That means that it is entirely possible that Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor mean what they say about putting off any further efforts to resolve the crisis until January. In other words, like it or not, both parties may actually be heading over the fiscal cliff with Plan B.

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With the House Republican leadership sticking to its plans to push through a Plan B tax and spending bill today, it’s an open question as to whether House Speaker John Boehner is really bluffing about his proposal as the party’s final answer to the White House in the fiscal cliff negotiations. Considering that there is no chance that the Democrats will allow the GOP plan to pass in the Senate and that reportedly even the staffs of the two sides are not talking, right now it is entirely possible that the standoff will result in there being no deal in place prior to the Christmas holiday next week. Or is it?

There are many observers in Washington and around the nation who are convinced that Plan B is merely an elaborate bluff designed to smoke more concessions out of an administration that for all of the president’s bluster is as desperate to avoid the ruinous tax increases and spending cuts that a failure to make a deal will bring as any Republican. But considering the enormous difficulty that Boehner is having in lining up the 218 votes from his own caucus that he will need to pass his legislation, imagining him going back to Republicans in the next couple of weeks to ask for their support for what is certain to be an even more unpalatable compromise deal seems a stretch. That means that it is entirely possible that Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor mean what they say about putting off any further efforts to resolve the crisis until January. In other words, like it or not, both parties may actually be heading over the fiscal cliff with Plan B.

All along it has been President Obama rather than Boehner who has sounded like the side most ready to go to the brink. With polls showing the public blaming Republicans for the impasse and a second term already won, the president appeared to believe that he had the whip hand in any negotiation. Indeed, up until the last week when he offered to raise taxes only on those making more than $400,000 rather than $250,000, Obama had showed no sign of being willing to budge. After that, most pundits assumed that there would be further movement from both sides that would create a deal that would be somewhere between $400,000 and the $1 million income mark that Boehner has offered. But if the speaker had come to believe that there would be no more concessions from a president who thought he could bludgeon his opponents by further grandstanding and delegitimization of their position, then perhaps he came to the conclusion that it was time for him to shut down the talks and make the White House sweat.

Republicans are aware that they will be blamed in the short term for allowing an across-the-board tax increase and the impact this will have on the economy. But they also understand that any hopes for a successful second term for the president hinge on a deal that might boost the chances of a genuine recovery for the nation rather than the anemic revival it has experienced under Obama. This may be emboldening Boehner to think that it is he, and not the man who was just re-elected president, who is in control of the talks.

In doing so, Boehner may have put the ball back into the Democrats’ court. But it’s not easy to see how the GOP leadership team will sell a deal in which the president came closer to their position if they’re having such a hard time putting across Plan B.

If the end result of all this maneuvering is that no deal will be reached, it must be said that this is a disaster for the country. Allowing taxes to rise for all taxpayers is not just wrong (indeed, Republican hardliners are right when they say that any increase on anyone, no matter how rich, isn’t going to help the economy or do much to balance the budget), it will harm the nation’s economic health. The defense cuts that will result from such a failure will also be ruinous for national security. But Boehner may be counting on President Obama being more fearful of this than a Republican Party that may think it has nothing left to lose after their November defeat. Unless the president jumps first in the next couple of days in this game of chicken the two are playing, the fiscal cliff doomsday scenario may come to pass.

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Boehner’s Bluff Not Impressing Dems

This morning’s press conference by the Republican House leadership was supposed to give the impression that Speaker John Boehner is prepared to go to the brink on the fiscal cliff negotiations with the White House. The GOP has finally coaxed President Obama to budge a bit from his previous hard-line position on raising taxes on all those who earn more than $250,000 (the president has upped the total to $400,000) leading many journalists to write yesterday as if a deal between the two sides was a foregone conclusion. But Boehner knows he needs more than the minimal spending cuts offered by the Democrats if he expects his caucus to back a gut-wrenching compromise that will require them to sign on to tax increases that they think will hurt the economy as well as offend their principles. Thus, the speaker was in front of the cameras today insisting that he would pass a version of his own current position on the fiscal cliff that would only raise taxes on those earning more than $1 million and more drastic spending cuts than those envisioned by the White House that has zero chance in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

But Boehner’s problem is that Democrats are no more impressed by his Plan B bluff than his Tea Party colleagues are by the president’s slight movement toward a deal. With polls continuing to show that the public blames the GOP more than the president for the impasse over the budget, no one in the White House or the Democratic caucus thinks the speaker’s move is anything more than the negotiating tactic of a party that knows it is in a vulnerable position.

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This morning’s press conference by the Republican House leadership was supposed to give the impression that Speaker John Boehner is prepared to go to the brink on the fiscal cliff negotiations with the White House. The GOP has finally coaxed President Obama to budge a bit from his previous hard-line position on raising taxes on all those who earn more than $250,000 (the president has upped the total to $400,000) leading many journalists to write yesterday as if a deal between the two sides was a foregone conclusion. But Boehner knows he needs more than the minimal spending cuts offered by the Democrats if he expects his caucus to back a gut-wrenching compromise that will require them to sign on to tax increases that they think will hurt the economy as well as offend their principles. Thus, the speaker was in front of the cameras today insisting that he would pass a version of his own current position on the fiscal cliff that would only raise taxes on those earning more than $1 million and more drastic spending cuts than those envisioned by the White House that has zero chance in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

But Boehner’s problem is that Democrats are no more impressed by his Plan B bluff than his Tea Party colleagues are by the president’s slight movement toward a deal. With polls continuing to show that the public blames the GOP more than the president for the impasse over the budget, no one in the White House or the Democratic caucus thinks the speaker’s move is anything more than the negotiating tactic of a party that knows it is in a vulnerable position.

Republicans are right to argue that the president’s insistence on raising taxes on the wealthy has little or nothing to do with balancing the budget, let alone helping an anemic recovery. Their frustration with the White House’s refusal to seriously address the deficit via entitlement reform is similarly justified. But they also know that if the fiscal cliff is reached next month without a deal in place, it will be their party and not a newly re-elected president who will be blamed for the across-the-board tax increase that will be imposed on the middle class as well as the rich. Though the president has a lot to lose by allowing the standoff to sink an already fragile economy, Boehner is sensible to the fact that a failure to compromise would be a political disaster for the GOP.

That has left the speaker in the unenviable position of having to try to make the best possible deal with the president without setting off a full-scale revolt among House Republicans.

Thus, it is likely that talk about Plan B—a proposal that is sensible but which would be dead on arrival in the Senate—has more to do with the speaker orchestrating a process by which he can secure his party’s agreement to an unpopular deal.

But unfortunately for Boehner, it isn’t terribly likely that President Obama will make it easy on him and follow up his tax offer with a more far-reaching proposal about cuts. The looks on the faces of Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Whip Kevin McCarthy this morning reflected the desperation of men who understand they have very few cards left in their hands, not the bold defiance of a party that thinks it can defy the president’s bullying tactics. Obama has spent the last month since his victory over Mitt Romney acting as if he would be just as pleased by a failure to avoid the fiscal cliff as he would be by getting his way in the talks with the Republicans.

Boehner deserves some credit for being tough enough to get Obama to make some concessions, but given the weakness of his relative position to the winner of the presidential election, those Republicans who expect him to get more are probably being unrealistic.

Though a compromise, no matter how inadequate, will be seen as a victory for Obama, in the long run it is the nation as a whole that is the big loser in a negotiation that seems destined to ensure that the country not deal with entitlement reform and the out-of-control spending that is a strategic threat to America’s future. But in the short term, it appears that Boehner’s Plan is just the prelude to an unpalatable deal that will at least allow Republicans to avoid the blame for a tax increase on everyone.

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