‘‘Of all the damage to be done politically here, one of the greatest concerns I have is that somehow John Boehner gets compromised,’’ said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a former House member and a Boehner supporter.
Something interesting happened over the past couple of weeks.
First a little bit of background.
Congress failed to pass a budget this year. The result of that failure was predictable. The government ran out of budget authority to continue to operate.
At the same time, the government was also exhausting its ability to borrow money through the sale of bonds in order to pay its bills. This was also predictable based on the rate at which the government was authorized to spend money compared with the rate at which tax revenues were coming in.
While these two things are related, they reflect two VERY different dynamics. In the first case, budget authority reflects the government’s ability to incur NEW debts. In the second case, the credit limit is the government’s ability to borrow money to pay bills that have come due as a result of the exercise of the budget authority that the government already had.
In other words, raising the government credit limit DOES NOT affect the deficit.
Giving the government more budget authority potentially DOES affect the deficit.
Ted Cruz seized on these two financial events as a political opportunity to enhance his standing with conservatives and perhaps position himself for a 2016 presidential run. He did this using the Madman Theory by suggesting that Republicans in the House and Senate were willing to shut down the government AND prevent the government from paying its bills if Senate Republicans and the President didn’t agree to their demands. They then made good on their first promise and shut down the government.
What happened next was also predictable.
Tea Party Republicans rallied around Ted Cruz.
More seasoned politicians questioned whether this plan would work based on past history and the fact that there weren’t even close to enough votes in the Senate to support the plan.
As the reality of the government shutdown spread throughout the country, Ted Cruz and his supporters including Glenn Beck and Fox News tried to convince the country that it was the fault of the President and the Democrats.
Everyone suffered losses in the polls, but Republicans suffered the most with historic new lows in popularity.
As it became obvious that the President and the Democrats were willing to call the Republican’s bluff, House Republicans began distancing themselves from this plan. At last count there were more than enough with Republican support to pass a simple bill to re-open the government and raise the credit limit.
“It’s very, very serious,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, warned on Tuesday. “Republicans have to understand we have lost this battle, as I predicted weeks ago, that we would not be able to win because we were demanding something that was not achievable.”
“We took some bread crumbs and left an entire meal on the table,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “This has been a really bad two weeks for the Republican Party.”
“Let’s just say sometimes learning what can’t be accomplished is an important long term thing, and hopefully for some of the members they’ve learned it’s impossible to defund mandatory programs by shutting down the federal government,” Republican Senator Burr said.
The last steps are now playing out.
Boehner failed to craft a bill in the House because the 30 or so Tea Party Republicans were unwilling to support any compromise even though it would further weaken the political position of their party.
Democrats and Republicans will pass a bi-partisan bill in the Senate. Ted Cruz will vote against it, but he won’t filibuster it because he isn’t a Madman, just an opportunistic politician.
That bill will come up for a vote in House and will pass with a comfortable majority comprised of all the Democrats and a large number of Republicans.
This particular bill will set up another potential confrontation in six months, but it will not be a repeat of what we’ve just seen. Those who would threaten to use this strategy again will not have the support to even start.
Finally after five years of political dysfunction, Congress will start working again. That’s because more Republican members are now more afraid of the voters in their districts than they are opposition from Tea Party. Mitch McConnell will be the hero and emerge as the leader of “rational” Republicans. Compromise will become the new badge of honor with the Senate modeling that behavior. Getting things done will become the new measure of success.
It will prove, however, too little and too late. The Tea Party will run candidates in Republican primaries against those they feel betrayed them. It won’t matter whether they win or lose because voters in November are NOT going to re-elect anyone who behaved like a Madman. The Democrats will win the seats they need to take control of the House and retain control of the Senate and government will begin operating again. Unemployment will come down. The economy will grow robustly in the last two years of the Obama administration. Immigration reform will pass. Healthcare will roll out. The tax code will get re-written and address income inequality. We’ll fix Medicare and Social Security and take the first substantive steps to deal with climate change. Deficits will come down and debt as a percentage of GDP will drop to safe manageable levels. As long as the Democrats can avoid shooting themselves in the foot, they will be well positioned to retain their majorities and the White House in 2016 regardless of who Republicans choose.
On the Republican side, we’ll see if the Tea Party retains enough influence to get one of their candidates nominated in 2016. If so, it will be a Democratic landslide. If not, there is a very real possibility that the Tea Party may align with the libertarians or start their own third party. If that happens, it will virtually guarantee a Democratic win and confirm what we have known about the Tea Party from pretty much the beginning. They ARE mad.
Democracy will again begin to work in predictable ways as the Tea Party retreats back to the shadows of fringe politics. History will later attribute this moment in time as the point at which conservative radicalism was defeated by Obama’s firm resolve.