Republican leadership forced to stop leading from behind

Kevin Drum describes what happened in the US Senate two days ago. The Republican party leadership clearly wanted to avoid another knock down, drag out, fight over raising the debt ceiling that so hurt them the previous times they have tried it. But the Tea Party wing has decided that raising the debt ceiling is the Greatest Evil Ever and was demanding that the party oppose it.

The speaker John Boehner could have stopped it cold by preventing the bill from being brought up for a vote but he did so anyway, angering the Tea Party. The House of Representatives passed the so-called ‘clean’ debt ceiling increase (i.e., no strings attached) for a year, with just 28 Republicans (including Boehner and majority leader Eric Cantor) voting with 193 Democrats to pass the bill by a vote of 221-201.

The bill then moved on to the Senate where the vote was supposed to be more of a formality. Since the Democrats had 55 votes in their caucus in the 100-member body, all the Republicans could have voted against the measure, thus not angering their Tea Party extremist base, while still having the debt ceiling raised with purely Democratic votes.

That was until senator Ted Cruz bunged a spanner into the works by deciding to mount a filibuster. To break the filibuster requires 60 votes and like the proverbial question of who would bell the cat, the issue was which five Senate Republicans would risk angering the Tea Party by voting with the Democrats and breaking the filibuster. Three of the usual so-called ‘moderates’ who had played similar roles before did so again, making the total 58 but the others balked because their party leadership had previously, while urging them behind the scenes to vote in favor, themselves voted against such measures, allowing them to take the rap.

This time they demanded that the leadership actually lead, and the votes in favor stalled at 58, with the time for voting extended to see if the leadership could sway others. They failed and this forced minority leader Mitch McConnell and minority whip John Cornyn to vote to take it over the 60 vote threshold, even though they both face tough re-election primaries and would have preferred not to give their opponents this weapon to beat them with. Once they voted yes, other Republicans also joined it, so that the filibuster was broken by a vote of 67-31.

Then all the Republicans voted against the actual bill raising the debt ceiling so that it passed 55-43 with only Democratic votes, as had been the original Republican plan. But that has not stopped the party extremists from attacking the leadership for selling out.

Ted Cruz’s tactics were too much even for the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal that scolded him.

Democrats had enough votes to pass the increase with a simple majority, which means they would have owned the debt increase. But then Senator Ted Cruz —the same fellow who planned the GOP’s shutdown fiasco in October—objected on the floor and insisted on a 60-vote majority. This is exactly what Democratic leader Harry Reid wanted because if the bill failed he would have sent the Senate home on recess and returned later this month to join President Obama in flogging the GOP as the debt-ceiling deadline neared.

Democrats beat the odds and retained their Senate majority in 2010 and 2012 in part because they stuck together. If Republicans fail again this November, a big reason will be their rump kamikaze caucus.

This kind of parliamentary maneuvering has its own kind of fascination for the political junkie and when I have time on my hands, I too can get sucked into it following it. But it does make you wonder how it could possibly be a good way to govern. As Drum says:

Senators these days are like our fabled youth who are supposedly so smothered with parenting that they’re afraid to face the real world on their own. Senators are so smothered with entitlement to their seats that they’re afraid of even the tiniest chance of a primary challenge. The result is a gutlessness in the face of mau-mauing from blowhards like Cruz that makes you want to avert your eyes. Even when it’s being done to a bunch of guys you can’t stand, it’s just too painful to watch.

It is really kind of pathetic.


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