House Republican leaders were really looking forward to this week – the last before Congress’ four-week recess. They’d lined up a bunch of votes to make far-right activists happy; they’d scheduled some hearings with the same goal in mind; and they’d prepared detailed instructions on how members should spend their summer break. It was going to be awesome.
But before they could get to the fun stuff, House GOP leaders thought they’d quickly wrap up work on a $44.1 billion transportation and housing, commonly known as “THUD” (Transportation and Housing and Urban Development). How’d that go? Not well – as Brian Beutler explained, it was an ugly fiasco in a series of ugly fiascoes.
Republicans have dealt with some embarrassing moments on the House floor over the past year, but none so revealing or damning as [Wednesday’s] snafu, when they yanked a bill to fund the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. Even the recent farm bill fiasco wasn’t as significant an indictment of the GOP’s governing potential.
It might look like a minor hiccup, or a symbolic error. But it spells doom for the party’s near-term budget strategy and underscores just how bogus the party’s broader agenda really is and has been for the last four years.
It wasn’t supposed to be this difficult. The House THUD bill would allocate funds for federal transportation and housing programs, and Republicans intended to pass the most conservative version of the spending bill possible – honoring the party’s sequestration policy and Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget blueprint.
Except yesterday, the you-know-what hit the fan. When it came time to move beyond the abstractions of Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget blueprint, and actually appropriate funds within the far-right framework, the House GOP’s own members just couldn’t go through with it.
And so, left with no choice, Republican leaders had to pull the spending bill they thought would pass, but which wasn’t close to having the support it needed.
In an angry statement, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said, “With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted three months ago. Thus I believe that the House has made its choice: sequestration – and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts – must be brought to an end.”
This may sound like inside baseball and budget wonkery, so let’s be clear about why yesterday was so important in the bigger picture. Matt Yglesias said it hints at “a mortal threat to the practical existence of the Republican governing majority in the House,” and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.
Beutler’s summary was spot-on:
All of this is a harbinger for the coming fight over funding the government. If House Republicans can’t establish a position of their own, then the Senate will drive the whole process (its Transportation/HUD bill will probably pass on a bipartisan basis this week) and appropriations will be extended past September one way or another on the strength of Democratic votes.
It also suggests that the GOP’s preference for permanent sequestration-level spending, particularly relative to increasing taxes, is not politically viable. If they want to lift the defense cuts, they’re going to have to either return to budget negotiations with Democrats, or agree to rescind sequestration altogether.
Or put another way, yesterday was the point at which the entire House Republican budget strategy began to unravel. There have been important divisions among House GOP lawmakers on taxes, DOMA, immigration, the farm bill, and more, but at least the party could take some comfort in knowing they were united behind a budget strategy.
Except, we now know they’re divided on this, too. Republican dysfunction has reached such a cringe-worthy level, they can’t even execute their own strategy on government spending, even if it’s just a negotiating ploy.
This strengthens the Democratic position considerably – not just because a relatively united Senate Democratic caucus has its own solid budget plan, but because House GOP leaders are no doubt realizing right about now that they’re going to need more Democratic votes to complete basic tasks.