Why is the oligarchy not pushing for reopening the government?

It is no secret that the leadership of the Republican party would like to re-open the government by passing a clean continuing resolution without any other provisions and also to raise the debt-ceiling limit. It is also clear that there are more than enough Republican votes in the House of Representatives to join up with the Democrats to do so. The number of Republicans who refuse to do is lies anywhere from 30 to 80, not small but nowhere near enough to stop this from happening, if the Republican leadership were to bring it to the floor.

But they refuse to do so and the question is: Why? The conventional answer is that those Republicans who do so will face a primary challenge from the Tea Partiers, those purists in the party who have made the repeal of the Affordable Care Act their Holy Grail. So this raises the question of how realistic the treat is of losing to a Tea Partier in the primaries.

This may be a case where the fear of losing to a Tea Partier is greater than the reality. In general, incumbents are re-elected with ease. When you look back to 2012, there were only two incumbent Republicans who lost primaries to Tea Party challengers for being insufficiently conservative in their eyes, and those were senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina. So in reality, the fear of Tea Party backlash may well be exaggerated. But in politics, as in so many other things, appearance may be stronger than reality and the fear of a Tea Party challenge could well be holding some Republicans back.

But the bigger factor is that John Boehner is a weak Speaker who cannot make his caucus bend to his will. His fear that he might lose his job as Speaker is more realistic than members losing their seats though it is not clear who would want to replace him right now in such a thankless position, unless it is someone who, like Boehner, just likes the perks of office. What keeps Boehner in office is likely the fear amongst the realist members of his caucus that he will be replaced by someone from the no-deal group. As long as Boehner placates the hardliners, his job is likely secure in the near future. Which means that he will not make a deal soon unless something catastrophic occurs, which is depressing to anticipate.

But there are other pressure groups at play. It is clear that the financial wing of the oligarchy represented by the big banks and Wall Street wants the government to reopen and the debt ceiling raised. But this group has little clout with rank-and-file Republicans, the most extreme of whom occupy the safest districts.

There is another faction of the oligarchy, like the Koch brothers and various conservative PACs, that is funding state and local races and this group is not as involved in the world of high finance and international commerce. They are more ideological and interested in undermining government altogether. It is this group that bankrolls the campaigns at state and local levels. If there is one good thing that comes out of this mess, it would be an internecine fight between these two factions of the oligarchy that bring their workings out into the open more.


  1. colnago80 says

    The other possibility is a discharge petition which would require the signatures of some 20 Rethuglicans in addition to the Democrats. Apparently, things are so bad that 20 can’t be found, at least yet.

    By the way, Singham neglects to mention non-incumbent Rethuglican aspirants for the House and Senate who had the backing of the state party muck da mucks but who were primaried and lost to an insurgent backed by the teabaggers (e.g. Ted Cruz).

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … [in] 2012, there were only two incumbent Republicans who lost primaries to Tea Party challengers for being insufficiently conservative…

    Dunno where you got that from, but they missed at least one: Rep. Cliff Stearns from north central Florida suffered a career-killing* ambush from the right by Ted Yoho (yes, really his name; no, he’s not Asian) in last year’s GOPrimary.

    *Don’t worry, Cliffie got a nice job lobbying, so he didn’t have to leave DC and shuffle around in the mud with all us slow-talkin’ crackers and other riff-raff. And he was a multi-millionaire even before he won his first election in 1988 on a strict term-limits platform.

  3. Mano Singham says

    In 2012 Stearns had to run in a new district that did not include his hometown, his strongest base of support, so it is doubtful that he could be considered an incumbent.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Redistricting moves the goalposts almost literally – but everybody in the area treated Stearns as the incumbent, and he campaigned lackadaisically as if expecting automatic re-election, expressing shock when Yoho won.

    The Florida Democratic Party, of course, flubbed the dub by giving its candidate in the new district virtually zero support despite the vulnerability of a de facto empty seat and the coattails of a fairly popular president. That’s just the way they roll.

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