Saturday, February 28, 2015

Kicking the Can Down the Road

Well at least John Boehner managed to get a stay of execution. With the DHS set to shut down at midnight, the House passed a one-week funding extension. In other words, they kicked the can down the road. Unable to muster the votes needed to get a three-week extension and fearful that putting the Senate bill to an up and down vote would mean the end of his speakership, Boehner, with the help of House Democrats, bought some time for his conference to come up with an alternate strategy.

Of course the problem for him and House leadership is that any such alternate strategy has zero chance of passing both houses. For starters, he'll need House Democrats to vote for it - not likely; then, assuming it passes, he'll have to hope that Senate Democrats don't filibuster it like they did on the last funding bill the House passed - even more unlikely.  Like it or not, Boehner's only real choice is to cave and allow the Senate bill to come to a vote.

To underscore the bind that Boehner is in, minority leader Nancy Pelosi instructed her caucus to vote "no" on the three-week extension, but then vote "yes" on the one-week extension. The first vote failed  203 - 224; the second passed 357 - 60. Even with the largest majority in 80 years, the beleagered Speaker still can't pass legislation without his Democratic assistance.

My guess here is that, after a lot of haranguing, Republicans will swallow hard and capitulate to a clean funding bill. Showboating aside, leadership doesn't have the stomach for a repeat of 2013. There are just enough of them who remember the beating they took. Peter King was quite, shall we say, eloquent in his thoughts. "I've had it with this self-righteous delusional wing of the party that leads us over the cliff."

The real question is what happens to Boehner. Does he survive or is he ousted? My gut tells me that he will survive. Not because he's popular with the base - far from it - but because a successor is unlikely to gather the needed votes to capture the position.  And, let's face it, after watching the beating Boehner has taken the last four years, who in their right mind would want the job?

Of course the term "right mind" is the major issue for the GOP. Let's not forget, Boehner barely got reelected as speaker this year - 25 members of his conference voted against him, forcing a second round vote for the first time since 1923. And that was after a resounding Republican wave in November. Just imagine what will happen once the GOP finally caves here. What I wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall inside that room.

I have to admit, I'm enjoying this shit. It's been a real hoot watching this comedy show masquerading as a political party.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mitch McConnell Punts It Back To The House

I'll say this for Mitch McConnell: He may be a hypocritical hack with the spine of a worm, but he can count. He knew he didn't have the votes to get the House's ridiculous DHS funding bill through the Senate. Democrats successfully stopped him four times; they were prepared to stop him forty times if need be. With the deadline for passing a funding bill rapidly approaching and a shutdown of the department imminent, he needed a way out of the jam his counterpart John Boehner put him in.

So he did what any politician would do: he punted the ball back to the House. As we speak, the Senate has just voted 98 - 2 to allow a clean funding bill to be brought to the floor. As soon as that bill is passed, the Senate will then vote up and down on President Obama's executive action on immigration. Democrats get what they want: a clean funding bill and Republicans get what they want: a chance to alienate yet more Hispanics.

Assuming both make it through both chambers, Obama will sign the former and veto the latter. I say assuming because the real hurdle is going to be the House or, more to the point, reluctant leader John Boehner, whose speakership may be hanging on how he proceeds. There is little doubt that if the Senate bill were given a straight up and down vote vote it would pass. Virtually every Democrat would vote for it and there are still enough sane Republicans left to push it across the finish line. It's the other unhinged Republicans that Boehner is worried about. They have made it abundantly clear that no funding bill can pass that doesn't strip Darth Vader (er, Obama) of his "unlawful actions." If Boehner were to acquiesce to common sense - unheard of in GOP land - he would be finished as Speaker in all likelihood.

Yet that is the fate that apparently awaits him. For the last few days Boehner has been insisting that the ball is now in the Senate's court. "It's time for them to do their job," he has been quoted as saying. Well, guess what? The new majority leader finally heard him. There is no way McConnell is going to tolerate a repeat of the 2013 shutdown fiasco, not with an election less than two years away and 24 members of his caucus up for reelection. Unlike House Republicans, who hold a commanding majority that isn't likely to be seriously challenged for several election cycles at the very least, Senate Republicans know their majority is precarious. If Democrats net four seats and hold the White House in 2016, McConnell will once again be at the back of the bus with Harry Reid at the wheel. You can bet the ranch he's going to do everything humanly possible not to let that happen, even if it means pissing off his base.

We'll soon know how all this plays out. Will Boehner have the stomach to stand up to the Tea Party loonies in his conference or will we once more be forced to go through this silly dance. This much is certain: in the White House, they are enjoying the sight of a divided Republican leadership going at it. This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. The GOP was supposed to be unified and running the show and Democrats were supposed to be in disarray and in retreat.

So much for that plan.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

John Boehner's Dangerous Game of Chicken

Some people never learn from their mistakes. People like John Boehner. A little over a year ago the Speaker of the House allowed a small faction of his conference to shut down the government and force a near debt-ceiling default over funding of the Affordable Care Act. It was a tremendous political blunder that accomplished nothing. The law went into effect and Republicans were rightly blamed for the stunt.

On February 27th, funding for the Department of Homeland Security will expire unless Congress passes a bill to fund it. The House has passed a bill doing just that. There's just one little problem: the funding bill strips President Obama of his authority to issue executive orders on immigration.

Both the White House and Senate Democrats have called for a clean funding bill. Even some Republicans are expressing concern over this game of chicken by the Speaker.  Former Homeland Security Chairman Peter King believes the GOP will be held accountable if the agency gets shut down. "We control the House and Senate; Americans know that we caused the last government shutdown, so we have a lasting specter of Ted Cruz hanging over us."

King's frustration over his party's antics is nothing new, and he's not alone. He, along with a few brave souls, criticized the Tea Party-led shutdown of 2013, all for naught. The simple truth is that Boehner and House leadership are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they do the responsible thing and pass a clean funding bill, they'll be skewered by the far Right; if they cow-tow to the extremist elements in the Party, they run the risk of defunding the agency tasked with protecting the country from a possible terrorist attack. If you thought nearly defaulting on the good faith and credit of the United States was bad, try another 9/11 on for size.

With the Paris attacks barely a month old, Boehner is embarking on the biggest gamble of his political life. He is counting on Obama and the Democrats to cave at the eleventh hour and give into his demands. But, just like in 2013, Senate Democrats are united. They are blocking Mitch McConnell from bringing the House bill to a vote.

Someone is going to have to blink first in this game of chicken and once more it looks as though it will be the Republicans. The only question is whether Boehner will come to his senses before the 27th. If he doesn't, and the nation is attacked, the GOP can kiss the 2016 election goodbye. While most Americans have forgotten how close the country came to defaulting on its debt, more than thirteen years later the image of the twin towers burning and collapsing is still etched in their collective consciousness.

It will be a very, very long time before they forgive the GOP should history repeat itself.