On Monday afternoon, congressional negotiators made an overdue announcement: a House-Senate conference committee had reached a deal on a farm bill that was supposed to have been completed months ago. Almost immediately, far-right groups weighed in, telling their Republican allies the bill isn’t nearly good enough.
By Tuesday morning, FreedomWorks had condemned the bill and urged GOP lawmakers to vote against it. Around the same time, Heritage Action and Club for Growth followed suit.
And one day later, the House proceeded to ignore the conservative groups and pass the $956 billion farm bill anyway, even before most lawmakers had a chance to read it. There was a fair amount of opposition to the legislation, but most of it came from the left, not the right, with liberals arguing the cuts to food stamps are far too deep.
It wasn’t all that long ago when it seemed far-right organizations were effectively calling the shots when it came to the congressional Republicans’ agenda. But the shutdown seemed to change the GOP’s calculus – outside groups opposed the bill to re-open the government, opposed the budget agreement reached earlier this month, opposed the recent appropriations package, and opposed the farm bill, but Republicans approved all of these measures without too much trouble.
Sahil Kapur took a look at these right-wing lobbying groups suddenly finding themselves on the outside looking in.
Politically, they appear to have overplayed their hand. Republicans are acquiescing to the need to sustain the most basic functions of government, instead of routinely sparking crises that are painful for members and self-defeating for the party. The reality of a second term for President Barack Obama is slowly setting in.In addition, the dozens of freshman and sophomore members are starting to realize that they can buck the outside groups without necessarily suffering a fatal setback in their next Republican primary.
All of this sounds persuasive, though the next question is the trickier one: does this recent trend suggest other accomplishments are possible? After all, once GOP leaders have started blowing off far-right groups on some issues, what’s to stop Boehner & Co. from doing the same on everything else?
It’s best to keep expectations in check. For one thing, all of the recent examples of Republicans ignoring their ostensibly allied friends – budget, appropriations, agriculture, keeping the government’s lights on – deal with routine governance. These aren’t creative and/or ambitious pieces of legislation; they’re the basics of Washington 101.
In other words, there’s a qualitative difference between GOP leaders thumbing their noses at Heritage Action when it comes to omnibus appropriations and Republicans ignoring the right on a bill like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The House majority is no longer willing to consider failure when it comes to basic tasks like preventing a shutdown, but on everything else, failure is very much an option.
What’s more, note that when it comes to other high-profile issues – immigration, gun safety, tax reform, et al – Republicans are already inclined to reject popular ideas that enjoy bipartisan support. Heritage Action may not like the idea of a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but for GOP leaders, that’s gravy – what matters to them is that rank-and-file Republican lawmakers are opposed, not whether outside groups are scoring the vote.
Put it this way: if a major piece of legislation requires House Republicans to compromise or accept provisions they find ideologically offensive, the bill will die. The Club for Growth’s opinions won’t much matter either way.
There have been some bipartisan compromises of late, which give the appearance of progress. Looking ahead, though, don’t get your hopes up.