In order to get the votes to become Speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy had to agree to a lot of the demands made by the most extreme members of the so-called Freedom Caucus.
Some of those concern committee assignments. Legislation must pass through the various and committees and subcommittees before they reach the floor for a vote. Draft legislation (the initial versions of which are often prepared behind closed doors with the help of lobbyists who tilt them to favor their bosses) are supposed to get hearings in these subcommittees with public input. Members of Congress desire seats on those committees that are of prime concern to wealthy constituents because then those constituents’ lobbyists will pour money into their campaigns in order to get their vote. Since these committees are much sought after, many of those seats are assigned by seniority, meaning that the longer one has been in Congress, the better your chances of being placed on the desired committees or, even better, chairing them. But some of the Freedom Caucus members have demanded seats ahead of senior members and you can be sure that McCarthy is going to face some anger if he shoves aside senior members to appease the extremists.
One of the demands of the extremists is the one that I wrote about before and is going to bedevil the issue of the debt ceiling, because it requires that raising the debt ceiling must be accompanied by spending cuts. Since these people do not want to touch defense spending, that most sacred of sacred cows and which forms a giant portion of government expenditure, this means that there have to be huge cuts in spending in other areas. The oligarchy has set its sights on cutting Social Security and Medicare because those have been one of the most successful government programs but do not directly benefit them. Because they are so tremendously popular, the extremists know that it will be tough to get support for cutting them which is why they are going to hold the debt ceiling as hostage. They know that deep cuts in popular programs have to be portrayed as some kind of emergency rescue measure to prevent the country going bankrupt, though that is an absurd argument and they know it.
Not all the concessions obtained by the extremists are bad. Here are some of the good ones:
- Move 12 appropriations bills individually. Instead of passing separate bills to fund government operations, Congress frequently passes a massive year-end spending package known as an “omnibus” that rolls everything into one bill. Conservatives rail against this, arguing that it evades oversight and allows lawmakers to stick in extraneous pet projects.
- Seventy-two hours to review bills before they come to floor
- Give members the ability to offer more amendments on the House floor
These steps would bring back some of the deliberative nature that should be part of the legislative process.
Since McCarthy has a slim majority of 222-212 (with one special election to be held next month that is likely to be won by a Democrat), he can only afford to lose five defectors. So although much attention has been paid to the fact that extremists seem to have a hold over him and could torpedo any vote if they don’t like it, others in the party could do the same if they feel that McCarthy is going too far in appeasing the extremists. But these people are not as vocal and nutty and so they do not get as much attention.
Then of course there are those things that will enable the extremists to push their favored agendas, especially investigations into specific people.
More immediately, McCarthy’s hollow victory opens the way for months more of G.O.P. performance art, which will likely encompass passing legislation that has no chance of being enacted by the Democratic-controlled Senate and holding innumerable conspiracy-theory-stoking hearings into the covid-19 pandemic, Hunter Biden, and anything else that might garner favorable coverage on Fox News and Newsmax. Along the way, the enduring fealty of many House Republicans to Donald Trump is also likely to become clear.
The new rules agreement for the 118th Congress, to which McCarthy acceded in order to win over the maga holdouts, and which will almost certainly be voted through on Monday, calls for the establishment of three new investigative subcommittees. The first would look into the origins and handling of the pandemic, and would surely zero in on Anthony Fauci, a frequent target of right-wing attacks. The second would examine “the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.” And the third would address the “Weaponization of the Federal Government”—more or less the adoption of a far-right slogan that implies the “Deep State” is targeting ordinary American citizens.
Although Trump is not named explicitly, the added language would appear to give the new subcommittee license to look into, and perhaps hold up, the Justice Department’s investigations of his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his post-Presidential mishandling of hundreds of classified documents.
McCarthy is a weak leader who will be swayed by those who can push him hardest. The key test of how he will fare will be when the first hot-button issue comes up for a vote.
Pierce R. Butler says
The oligarchy has set its sights on cutting Social Security and Medicare …
Don’t feel too sure our ruling classes all share that goal: many have the perspective that these stabilize the bulk of the population and know better than to leave the middle and working classes with outrage and nothing to lose. The Kochs and their ilk, particularly the financiers who want to raid those big pots of money, may face major opposition when (not if) they try to steal that leg of the stool.
Give members the ability to offer more amendments on the House floor…
A worthy reform, if in a context of good-faith efforts to govern responsibly. In the present House, though progressives and moderates may seize their opportunities to offer doomed proposals showing what could be done, mostly this will serve the “Freedom Caucus” and its disruption agenda.
Remember how little Obama and Clinton got done in their respective 3rd and 4th years after losing Democratic Congressional majorities? Prepare for a re-run of those wasted years, with even more turds in the punchbowl.
If they were super serious, they would just pass a new spending bill that said “this expenditure per year shall continue in perpetuity”, with basically all new spending bills also for perpetuity, leaving just one military spending bill per year as basically required by the constitution.