It didn’t get much attention last week, but House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) suffered a significant defeat last week. The Virginia Republican, as part of a larger rebranding campaign, crafted something called the “Helping Sick Americans Now Act,” which intended to transfer money from the Affordable Care Act to high-risk pools for the uninsured.
Democrats saw through the scheme, but more importantly, House Republicans hated the idea, seeing it as a plan to “fix” Obamacare. Humiliated, Cantor was forced to pull his bill without a vote.
The overlooked fiasco was a problem House GOP leaders saw coming.
Less than two weeks ago, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy walked upstairs to Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s Capitol office to discuss a sensitive issue: Why did Cantor schedule a vote before McCarthy had the chance to survey Republican support?
The meeting – described as “tense” by several people familiar with it – ended with McCarthy abruptly standing up and storming out of the room. Aides downplayed the exchange. But a week later, it turned out that McCarthy’s pique was merited: The health care-related bill was suddenly pulled from the floor in what was the most recent stumble for House Republicans.
If this was a rare misstep, and the Republican-led House ran like a well-oiled governing machine, it’d be easy to overlook. But the trouble with Cantor’s bill appears to be evidence of a much larger and deeper problem.
We talked a month ago about House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) “Make the Senate go first” rule that effectively takes the House out of the governing process altogether, but Jake Sherman’s report makes it seem as if Boehner doesn’t have much of a choice – this is a House “in chaos.” Republican leader are “talking past each other”; the House conference “is split by warring factions”; and influential outside groups are fighting their ostensible allies.
It’s ugly, and it’s getting worse.
There appear to be a series of factions, which clearly don’t see eye to eye. Right-wing lawmakers want to invest their time and energy into combating Democrats and voting on health care repeal; Cantor and his allies are focused on rebranding and conservative-friendly solutions; and Boehner has some big-ticket items in mind as he weighs the future of the so-called “Hastert Rule.”
In the meantime, four months into the new Congress, the House has no policy agenda, and according to the Politico report, GOP leaders even consider immigration reform a “long shot” in the lower chamber.
I’m not entirely convinced that the House is so far gone that governing is literally impossible, especially if the Speaker’s office is willing to forgo the “majority of the majority” and start passing bills with Democratic votes. Boehner has already done this four times this year, and if he’s willing to do it some more, this Congress may not be a complete disaster.
But clearly House Republicans are divided against themselves. There’s no meaningful leadership; no interest in cooperation or compromise; and post-policy nihilism rules the day. The demise of Cantor’s health care bill was a reminder that House Republicans will reject their own party’s policy ideas with nearly the same speed as they’ll reject Democratic ideas.
For many Beltway pundits, the inability of House Republicans to act like a governing caucus is mainly President Obama’s fault – if only he’d schmooze with them, form personal relationships, and act like a character in an Aaron Sorkin movie, maybe these radicalized nihilists would be more likely to get something done.
But all available evidence suggests the collapse of the House GOP is out of Obama’s hands. The House Republican conference is simply broken.