Saturday, October 12, 2013

It's Not A Budget Negotiation.

I keep seeing people, from both sides of the aisle,  independent from the aisles and even observing from outside the US talking about the debt ceiling and the shutdown who say things along the lines of "Why can't Congress just pass a budget" or "Congress needs to sit down and balance the budget so they can open the government."

The spending (budget) part of this two step process was already approved.  This is step two... which is basically just to approve paying the bills we've already approved and incurred.  This has nothing to do with passing or balancing a budget... and that there was no big kerfuffle over passing the spending is why so many Americans don't realize that this is a very separate step from that.

The two separate budget/spending and bill-paying steps were briefly combined into just one step under what was dubbed the "Gephardt Rule" (which began in 1979) and then when the Republicans took the house in 1985, they did away with the Gephardt Rule and it became two separate steps again.  

One of the problems with it being two separate steps, now, is that the freshmen Congressmen weren't there to vote a lot of this spending into place and the whip has no "you voted to spend it, now you have to own it and vote to pay for it" leverage with them on a clean CR... and for whatever reason, Boehner decided to go with the deal some in this frosh minority shot back "We weren't here to vote to spend that money and we won't vote to pay for those things, UNLESS we get to knock out this law we don't like that we don't have the numbers or public support to overturn. Give us that and you have our vote."  

My theory is that they thought there was no way on this Earth the Dems would let it go to a shutdown and would vote to pass ANYthing to avoid it.  I think this because they don't seem to have any plan or strategy in place now that their bluff has been called.  

Boehner has one good out -- I doubt he'll take it, but he is the one who set it up -- he said he didn't think they had the votes to pass a clean CR.  So, he could send out the whip, make sure he has the votes (he does, but Boehner tends to adhere to the so-called "Hastert rule" which is basically an unspoken rule that Republican speakers have followed where they won't call a vote on something, even if it will pass easily with bi-partisan support, unless a majority of Congressmen within just their own party will vote to pass it) and then announce that their Whip has done a tremendous job getting the votes necessary to end the shutdown, bring the clean Continuing Resolution to the floor for a vote - pass it, pay the bills and end the shut down.

 He saves face, the Republican Whip looks like a hero, some of the damage to their party is undone and will likely be forgotten by the time the next elections roll around, default is averted and the country re-opens.  Everybody wins.  Except Boehner.  It will  damage Boehner WITHIN his own party for not adhering to the Hastert Rule.  

So, Boehner has to decide which matters more to him - the country and how he's viewed by the people in general or his party and how he's viewed by those within its ranks.  Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it?  Pick this great nation & public support from the people... duh!

But, it's actually a pretty tough  little corner he's backed himself into -- no amount of public support will keep him in the Speaker's chair and perhaps not even in Congress if his party turns on him.  On the other hand,  if this continues, both public and party support may fall out from under the small faction within his party who perpetrated this - Boehner may be capitulating to this faction, but he is not actually a part of that faction and he's in a very safe district he can't lose so long as he's not primaried out by his own party.  So, he likely believes (and may very well be right)  he has a better chance of surviving this if he lets it continue just long enough to destroy just that faction within his party.  Will he choose his country or his own political hide?  Which does he love more?  We will know very soon.