A Washington Post piece by Paul Kane and David Fahrenthold reviews the twists in the debt negotiations over the past month, illustrating along the way the pressures building with the GOP House Caucus.
One note that will surprise GOP Freshmen is the apparent disdain in which they are held by long-time Beltway Bigs:
By Monday night, Boehner huddled for dinner with several close friends, including Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who earlier that day had unveiled the bipartisan “Gang of Six” plan calling for nearly $4 trillion in savings. Chambliss’s plan also included large revenue increases, but the senator said he knew that Boehner faced an uphill battle in winning support for anything similar.
“They’re trying to be principled,” Chambliss said last week of the House Republicans, “and that’s what is making it tough on John.”
The article concludes by portraying the GOP House Caucus as deeply split:
After [Cantor] and McCarthy privately opposed the early July tax provisions offered by Obama, the Boehner-versus-Cantor story dominated the Capitol. A few days later, Boehner felt compelled to drape his arm around Cantor at a news conference as a show of unity.
At that point, Boehner brought Cantor into talks with Obama. Despite concerns about discussion of increased revenue, Cantor played the role of loyal deputy. Still, at the end of this past week, they ended up at the same place: Obama wanted too much in taxes, and according to GOP aides, Cantor and the “Young Guns” advised Boehner that such an approach simply would not fly.
The result of this Republican division at the top has been confusion at the bottom. Many rank-and-file Republicans said they had little idea what kind of compromise would be proposed next. The last concrete proposal they had supported, called “cut, cap and balance,” failed Friday in the Senate and the leadership team has not offered told their troops of another option.
Now yet another proposal is going to be sprung on the rank and file House GOP, which must increasingly wonder why they bother to come to the Capitol at all, and who must also be worrying about how they appear to their constituents at home –lost sheep waiting for Shepherd John to tell them which way to move?
Byron York provides the latest on the newest secret deal –a two parter!– but this latest chapter is still the Speaker telling the Caucus what it will do without any apparent attempt to hear from them what they want to do.
References to the Pledge to America, by the way, are conspicuously absent in all accounts of Beltway insiderdom.
How long can this go on? One interesting bit of history is in Michael Crowley’s recap of the failed coup attempt against Newt Gingrich in 1997.
One of the conspirators/bystanders at the time was John Boehner, who must surely realize today that conservative anger with his tactics and especially his acceptance of tax hikes (called “revenue increases” in exactly the sort of dodge that upsets grassroots activists and Tea Party volunteers ) is rising. The Speaker has disdained conservatives until his call into Rush’s show this week, but the Cantor/McCarthy/Hensarling troika purport to speak for the conservatives especially the Freshmen.
Conservative leader Jim Jordan’s star is rising in the House GOP, and his willingness to speak out against compromise even as the Speaker was seeking compromise –how did tax hikes get on to the table in the first place?– suggests a double threat to Boehner, both from the leadership immediately below him and from within the RSC that can count and wonders why a conservative warrior isn’t in the big chair.
The good news is that the Speaker remains a tough Catholic kid from Cincy who can size up a situation. He must realize that their isn’t any demand within the grassroots of his party for a “grand deal” with the president and Harry Reid. The party doesn’t trust either man, or the talents of the GOP staff, to do other than compliment each other on a job well done as the Democrats walk off with another massive infusion of tax dollars into D.C.
The GOP’s job is to cut government by cutting programs, agencies and entitlements. Better to lose a round in that battle (the McConnell plan) than “win” with a massive tax hike and phantom spending cuts (like the “cuts” delivered by the CR this spring.)
UPDATE: Accounts of the breakdown of the talks between the president and the Speaker point to the re-emergence of the Gang of Six and the opening they gave the president to demand even more in tax hikes.
From my interview with Senator Tom Coburn on Thursday:
HH: We need candor and detail. The American people deserve that.
TC: Hugh, that’s not fair. I put…nobody has listed what you would cut but me. Nobody in the Congress. Not the President, not anybody in the Republicans. I’ve listed $9 trillion dollars worth of cuts. So you can disagree with them, but you can’t be critical of it until you tell me what you would cut. The fact is…
HH: I can, A) I’m not cutting Defense. Number one…
TC: Wait, if you don’t cut Defense, what you’re saying is the inefficiencies, the waste, the fraud in the Defense department, we ought to hold them harmless, when in fact there’s at least a half a trillion to a trillion dollars worth of waste at the Pentagon over ten years. If you cut a trillion dollars, you would still have us at a level higher than we were at the height of the Iraq surge.
HH: Senator, I can criticize because it’s not so much your plan, your $900 billion dollar plan, it’s the Gang of Six [plan], and the momentum it gave the President to stop serious conversations about next year’s cuts, which he immediately did. And it’s the lack of specificity in the Gang of Six plan which your return to gave new life to. I mean, it was like the second coming when Tom Coburn came back into the room. And so you reinvigorated a head fake on the American people. I don’t think you intended to do it, but you saw the New York Times yesterday and the Hill…
TC: I don’t read the New York Times.
HH: Well, let me relay to you that they treated your coming back as basically the President was going to get what he wanted.
TC: And let me tell you how much meaning that has in the country. For the elites, that means something. For the average American people, what the New York Times says doesn’t mean a thing.
What Senator Coburn and all the other free agents around the Senate haven’t figured out is that the president gets to pick his spots, and if an when he sees a “gang” or a “proposal” that he can use to leverage his own, he uses it.