With the government shuttered and leaders nudging closer to the possibility of a default on the nation’s debt, lawmakers are recognizing the lessons of past fiscal fights. And one in particular — for better or worse — is rising above the others: Do not give in.
Congress flirted with fiscal ruin in 2011 before leaders agreed to the Budget Control Act and again on New Year’s Day this year, when they averted the so-called fiscal cliff. In the aftermath of each, each side had a pelt it could claim.
But now, leaders and rank-and-file members are dug in, with the path toward resolution murkier than ever.
The thinking among Senate Democrats is that they’d set a dangerous political precedent if they were to bend to House Republicans. From the Democratic viewpoint, Republicans are watching to see how this fight plays out. Any concessions they extract from Democrats will only give them incentives to do so again in the future.
“If we were to give in while the government is shut, what do you think happens on the debt ceiling? What do you think happens when the CR has to be renewed?” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., asked recently. “The hard Right says, see, by holding a gun to their heads, we got something we wanted. We’ll up the ante this time.”
But Republicans too have little reason to give in. Many conservatives ran on a platform dedicated in part to slashing Obamacare and claim a mandate to do just that. From their viewpoint, there’s little incentive to defy the constituents who sent them to Washington in the first place.
“If you were one of these House guys in 2010, you ran, you beat a Democrat incumbent and said, ‘I promise I’ll go to Washington and repeal Obamacare,’ ” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “You expect them to back off?”
Democrats admit that Republicans in the House won their election. To do otherwise, of course, would be to ignore reality. But they quickly point out that their reason for not giving in that they won an election of their own — the presidential election.
“One of the big changes is that they had just won a huge election,” Schumer said. “They lost a big election in 2012.”
It’s not just the election results, either, that explain the political brinkmanship. Republicans picked a fight over what is destined to become a key part of President Obama’s legacy.
“President Obama views Obamacare as perhaps the most signal achievement of his administration and so therefore he is much more committed on this issue than probably he would be on almost any other issue,” McCain said.
For lawmakers, the political fight in 2010 over Obamacare itself leaves bitter traces behind. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, remembers taking votes at 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. without the chance to offer amendments, and today’s battle feels familiar.
“It is extremely gridlocked now. This is certainly one of the worst times,” Collins said. “But in terms of the impact on the country, this is far worse. Far worse.”
Asked what lessons he’s learned from the 2011 and 2012 fiscal fights, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., took the opportunity to throw a political stone.
“It takes leadership to end [these fights],” Levin said. “Speaker Boehner is not a strong leader, to put it mildly.”
Levin, who’s retiring after 34 years in the Senate, said what he’s seeing in the current fight is unprecedented.
“I’ve never seen an inability of a leader, ultimately, to do what he thinks is the right thing to do, even though 5 or 10 percent of his caucus doesn’t,” Levin said. “I’ve never seen this.”
Opinions like Levin’s have been the norm with lawmakers, albeit with almost a mirror image coming from many Republicans.
Asked whether the lesson that all lawmakers had learned was really just that winning is the most important goal, Collins shook her head.
“That’s what I’m trying to get away from,” she said. “For us just to make partisan speeches on the Senate floor, blasting one another, doesn’t do it.”
What We're Following See More »
When it comes to name-calling among America's upper echelon of politicians, there may be perhaps no greater spat than the one currently going on between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump. While receiving an award Tuesday night, she continued a months-long feud with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Calling him a "small, insecure moneygrubber" who probably doesn't know three things about Dodd-Frank, she said he "will NEVER be president of the United States," according to her prepared remarks."We don't know what Trump pays in taxes because he is the first presidential nominee in 40 years to refuse to disclose his tax returns. Maybe he’s just a lousy businessman who doesn’t want you to find out that he’s worth a lot less money than he claims." It follows a long-line of Warren attacks over Twitter, Facebook and in interviews that Trump is a sexist, racist, narcissistic loser. In reply, Trump has called Warren either "goofy" or "the Indian"—referring to her controversial assertion of her Native American heritage.
The House on Tuesday voted 403-12 "to pass an overhaul to the nation’s chemical safety standards for the first time in four decades. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act aims to answer years of complaints that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the necessary authority to oversee and control the thousands of chemicals being produced and sold in the United States. It also significantly clamps down on states’ authorities, in an effort to stop a nationwide patchwork of chemical laws that industry says is difficult to deal with."
"Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over making fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party." Among the possible changes: forbidding independent voters to cast ballots in Republican primaries, and "doubling the number of early states to eight."
Citing the unpredictable nature of this primary season and the possible leverage they could bring at the convention, John Kasich is hanging onto his 161 delegates. "Kasich sent personal letters Monday to Republican officials in the 16 states and the District of Columbia where he won delegates, requesting that they stay bound to him in accordance with party rules."
"Speaker Paul Ryan is changing the rules of how the House will consider spending measures to try to prevent Democrats from offering surprise amendments that have recently put the GOP on defense. ... Ryan announced at a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning that members will now have to submit their amendments ahead of time so that they are pre-printed in the Congressional Record, according to leadership aides." The change will take effect after the Memorial Day recess.