Democrats Doubt Republicans Will Change Their Spots

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 16: U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) speaks during a news conference January 16, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. House Democrats held a news conference to announce new legislation to eliminate the federal debt ceiling.
National Journal
Elahe Izad
Dec. 12, 2013, 2:46 p.m.

Some gasped when House Speak­er John Boehner dressed down con­ser­vat­ive groups this week as hav­ing “lost all cred­ib­il­ity.” But Demo­crats were skep­tic­al that Boehner’s com­ments — and his will­ing­ness to al­low a quick vote on a budget deal that out­side groups hate — rep­res­ent a turn­ing point for Re­pub­lic­ans.

Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gress­ive Caucus Co­chair Keith El­lis­on, D-Minn., said Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship push­ing back against out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups is “a pos­it­ive sign, but I don’t think it’s any­thing more than a mo­ment­ary sign.”

“That’s be­cause these far-right groups are not go­ing to quit,” El­lis­on said. “They’re go­ing to re­cal­cu­late and come back at it ASAP, and one nev­er knows what these Re­pub­lic­ans in this Con­gress are go­ing to do the next time a big is­sue comes up. We’ve got the debt ceil­ing com­ing up.”

Demo­crats are cer­tainly pleased that they didn’t see Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship giv­ing in to pres­sure from out­side groups on the budget deal, but by and large, they don’t view how the budget deal came to­geth­er as the dawn of a brand-new day.

“I was en­cour­aged by what [Boehner] had to say, and we’ll see what hap­pens today,” House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi said be­fore the budget deal hit the House floor for a vote. As for wheth­er a new spir­it of bi­par­tis­an­ship is sweep­ing the Cap­it­ol, Pelosi said, “I don’t think it’s a one-off, and I don’t think it’s a turn­ing point.”

Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, the No. 3 Demo­crat in the Sen­ate, soun­ded the most op­tim­ist­ic that the budget deal rep­res­en­ted something lar­ger. He cited pas­sage of com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form, the farm bill, and oth­er le­gis­la­tion in the Sen­ate with a num­ber of Re­pub­lic­an sup­port­ers as a good sign, and he de­pic­ted bi­par­tis­an­ship as something akin to a vir­us that he hopes will spread through both cham­bers.

“The House has al­ways been the block, and now the House seems to be catch­ing the let’s-get-it-done fever that has in­fec­ted a good num­ber of Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans for the bet­ter,” Schu­mer said. “I hope that it’s a con­di­tion that re­mains with them for many, many months to come.”

The debt ceil­ing, which will have to be re­newed next year, will be an early test as to wheth­er a con­sid­er­able block of Re­pub­lic­ans will re­buke pres­sure from out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups, said House Budget Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Chris Van Hol­len of Mary­land. Many of his fel­low Demo­crats are ask­ing them­selves wheth­er the in­flu­ence of such groups has waned enough to al­low ba­sic budget­ary bills to get through without a fight.

“If our Re­pub­lic­an col­leagues go home and they don’t get a lot of push­back, maybe that will en­cour­age them to co­oper­ate more on oth­er is­sues. I will only be­lieve it when I see it,” Van Hol­len said. “I don’t see any evid­ence that they’re go­ing to stop their knee-jerk al­le­gi­ance to Grover Nor­quist’s plan. I don’t see that.”

Con­ser­vat­ive group Her­it­age Ac­tion an­nounced its op­pos­i­tion to the budget deal be­fore it was form­ally an­nounced — and un­sur­pris­ingly key-voted it a “no.”

Liber­tari­an-aligned Cato In­sti­tute is op­posed, and Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity called the deal not just “bad policy, it is bad polit­ics.”

Demo­crats, and par­tic­u­larly pro­gress­ives, aren’t thrilled with the fi­nal budget deal either, which helps ex­plain their lack of ela­tion over the Re­pub­lic­an polit­ics of it. The deal lacks an ex­ten­sion of long-term un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, asks fed­er­al em­ploy­ees to pay in more to their pen­sions, and lacks oth­er Demo­crat­ic pri­or­it­ies. Left-lean­ing Demo­cracy for Amer­ica re­ferred to it not as a com­prom­ise, but as “a sel­lout.”

And both sides pre­dict this Con­gress will con­tin­ue with the same polit­ics as usu­al for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Rep. Tim Huel­skamp, R-Kan., a tea-party-aligned mem­ber of­ten seen as a thorn in lead­er­ship’s side, said out­side groups, wheth­er lib­er­al or con­ser­vat­ive, should have con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence on Cap­it­ol Hill. And he sees re­per­cus­sions down the road for think­ing oth­er­wise.

“When those con­ser­vat­ive groups say there’s a prob­lem in Wash­ing­ton, they get tens of thou­sands of people to call in. It’s not fake,” he said. “For any Re­pub­lic­an to try and ig­nore them is dan­ger­ous to them elect­or­ally. That doesn’t both­er the speak­er — I think he’s go­ing to re­tire. But for plenty of oth­ers? They’re look­ing over their shoulders, be­cause these are ef­fect­ive groups.”

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