Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wherein I disagree (this one time) with Steve Benen

Anyone who has read this blog regularly knows that one of my favorite pundits on the internet is Steve Benen. But today I think he failed to connect the dots on what I think is a very important story.

In one of his posts he commented on the same story in the NYT that I wrote about today regarding President Obama reaching out to develop a common sense caucus. What was disappointing to me is that he followed that same old tired beltway line about whether or not the President is "schmoozing" enough with members of Congress. And thus, he ends his post being doubtful these efforts will succeed.
I don't blame Obama for trying this, and I don't doubt he has a credible message to share, but so long as Republicans remain a radicalized party with an extremist base, the GOP will not suddenly become cooperative because the president called them up and invited them to dinner.
Later in the day, Benen wrote about the other dot he needs to connect this with in order to see the strategy more clearly...the death of the Hastert Rule.
To briefly recap, the "Hastert Rule" is terrific for party discipline and partisan rule -- it tells Republican Speakers to only bring bills to the floor that most of their own caucus supports (measures that enjoy a "majority of the majority"). The idea is, Republicans shouldn't even consider bills if they're dependent on Democratic votes to pass; the real power belongs in the hands of the House GOP's far-right rank and file.

In early January, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) decided to ignore the "rule" to pass a bipartisan agreement resolving the "fiscal cliff." At the time, Boehner said it was an unusual situation and he wouldn't make a habit of it. Two weeks later, however, the Speaker did it again on Sandy disaster relief, and again he said these were unique circumstances.

And last week, Boehner did it again to pass the Violence Against Women Act, raising questions anew.
What Benen doesn't mention about this is that when it came time to pass VAWA, it wasn't necessarily Boehner's idea to break the Hastert Rule. As I mentioned previously, 19 House Republicans banded together to pressure him to bring the more liberal Senate version up for a vote and then joined with Democrats to pass it. If the Speaker hadn't complied, they could have developed a discharge petition and - along with Democrats - gotten enough signatures to force him to bring it to a vote.

What Benen doesn't acknowledge when he assumes President Obama's "schmoozing" won't be effective with a "radicalized party with an extremist base" is that it only takes 18 sane Republicans joining with Democrats to have a majority. As I mentioned previously, by my count on previous votes, there might be somewhere between 14 and 21 depending on the issue.

I wouldn't suggest total confidence that something like this will work to break the log jam the Republicans leadership is intent on erecting.  But right now it looks like the best possibility we've got until the 2014 elections.

1 comment:

  1. One of the things that's been interesting to watch is the breaking of what was the monolithic voting block that Republicans had. A lot of that is due to the election in 2012. Up until then, the Republicans were betting - and it's obvious from both their statements and recent stories - that Obama would be defeated, and that they'd retake the Senate along with keeping the House.

    Not only did they lose their bet across the board, but in at least the Northeast, a number of Republicans failed to get re-elected. That had an impact on the remainder who were around them. So they're going to be more "flexible," particularly if they want to stay in Congress.