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January 15, 2013

The House GOP Is Ready To Cave on Sandy Pork . . . And The Debt Ceiling

A couple short items to put on your radar. First, if you didn't see it, here's my post detailing all the wasteful spending in the Sandy relief package that will be taken up by the House today.

Second, last night the GOP-led House Rules Committee blocked almost all amendments to the Sandy bill that would have trimmed out the fat. I suspected the GOP was ready to welcome defeat on this yesterday. Now we know for sure. They just want the issue gone.

There's something else in the air here in D.C. too. And that is the feeling, propelled by pieces like this one in Politico and this column by Ed Morrissey that conservatives in the GOP would prefer to get the debt ceiling out of the way so they can score points off of a government shutdown -- or the threat of a government shutdown -- in late March, when the current CR expires.

This seems, to me, to be skipping past the immediate problem, the debt ceiling, in favor of fantasizing about a supposedly easier fight to be had months from now. My concern is what form a debt ceiling deal will take since these folks are so obviously telegraphing their disinterest in fighting that battle. In case you were wondering, that sound you hear is Speaker Boehner's leverage slamming the door on its way out.

This is doubly confusing because not only is the debt ceiling our immediate problem, but it is the only one of the two on which we poll better. Whereas the public at least says it supports spending cuts equal to the amount we raise the debt ceiling (they say this, but I'm not sure they mean it), the public absolutely hates government shutdowns.

Shutdowns poll terribly. That's why both parties try so hard to avoid them. But Ed and Politico's GOP whisperers are kidding themselves if they think that Sen. Reid will take the blame for the next one, particularly because Ed and Politico's GOP whisperers have gone to such lengths to explicitly describe this GOP strategy and detail its benefits. That type of talk does not exactly give the impression that the GOP wants to avoid a shutdown.

I suppose I should slightly amend that previous bit: shutdowns poll terribly, except in some deep red districts. That's more truthful and it gets to the heart of the issue here. Most Republican congressmen want to avoid a shutdown because their constituents want it avoided. They're not looking to upset their constituents and that's reasonable since the alternative is a Democrat in that seat.

However, a small group of congressmen come from such solid red districts that they could threaten to close the government for months and they'd never face even the threat of electoral punishment for it. In fact, some of these districts would welcome not just the threat of a government shutdown, but an actual government shutdown. Which means their priorities are exactly opposite the priorities of most of their GOP colleagues.

Do you see where this is going? Because it is a repeat of the Plan B debacle. The Safe Republicans from solid red districts will refuse to cut a deal, even one that cuts spending, because they can survive a gov't shutdown that cuts more. Meanwhile, Republicans in unsafe districts will have to go to the Democrats to cut a deal if they want to avoid losing their seats. And any deal that depends on House Democratic support for passage will be further to the left than a deal that had received uniform Republican support.

The far right,* because it refuses to work with their Republican colleagues on a compromise, will once again have impelled final legislation that is further to the left than would otherwise be the case.

Anyway, the course has been set. All that's left is to watch this trainwreck.

*Update: Several commenters are unhappy with my use of the phrase "far right."

What I meant by that was, as I had previously written in the post, those members who are from such safe districts that they can give their GOP colleagues the middle finger on the issue of a government shutdown. Instead of "far right," it would have been better had I continued to use the phrase "conservatives" or "more conservative members." "Far right" was too antagonistic.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 09:10 AM

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