Gridlock Forever

January 5th, 2012 at 4:50 pm | 28 Comments |

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Far from yielding an ambiguous electoral outcome, the Iowa caucuses solidly confirmed the Balkanization of the Republican Party, a fact that will lead to potential electoral failure in 2012 unless neutralized soon. These internal divisions hurt the party’s leadership in Congress in 2011; they have already improved Democratic chances to retain the Senate, gain substantial seats in the House, and keep the White House in 2012.

Super-imposed on this chaos is a 2012 Congressional legislative schedule that virtually no one on Capitol Hill believes has a snowball’s chance in hell of ever passing.

Let’s take a look at the GOP. Mitt Romney gets a quarter of the vote, what we can call the “competency vote.” Ron Paul gets a quarter of the vote, what has been called the “Libertarian” vote, mostly male, mostly an exaggerated macho response to external order, such as what government provides. Rick Santorum, coupled with the Michelle Bachmann cohort, gets about a quarter, centered on traditional “values” like abortion and prayer in school. The remaining quarter of the self-identified Republican base (those who vote in primaries) represent a Newt Gingrich kind of amalgam of the fiscal conservatives, neo-cons, political scientists, and a few “establishment” Republicans.

The overlaps are obvious. Romney will get many of the fiscal conservative/deficit hawks eventually. Paul will continue to get the theological “no government is best” crowd, but may steal a few of Santorum’s vote. Gingrich’s folks could split easily toward Romney if and when Gingrich throws in the towel, but some may go to Santorum on social issues and to Paul in the primaries. The divisions between Tea Party Republicans and social conservatives have been over-stated by the media as revealed in Iowa. As someone with a particularly sadistic sense of humor said, “Oh, great, we make get a real convention for the Republicans this time.”

Meanwhile, incumbents in Congress have work to do, work that will raise almost every contentious issue that matters to voters.

Here’s a rough sketch of the upcoming Congressional schedule that the Congress confronts:


*the Congressional Budget Office reveals its current law and current policy baselines for FY2013-17 later this month;

*President Obama makes his State of the Union Address the January 24;

*President Obama sends his recommended increased of $1.2 trillion in the federal debt limit Congress, and Congress must approve or disapprove by a 2/3rds margin;

*President Obama submits his budget recommendations for FY2013-17 the first week of February,incorporating the defense recommendations released today by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta;

*House and Senate must confront another round of warfare over the payroll tax holiday, Unemployment Insurance, and the Medicare doc’s fix in February.

*CBO re-estimates the President’s budget submission;

*Literally hundreds of hearings on all aspects of the federal budget proceed in Congress;

*Congress should produce a Congressional Budget Resolution for FY13 in April, but has failed to do so the past two years;

*Individual appropriations bills for FY13 stall (c.f. the past several years);

*Congress spends until the August recess in wrangling, producing little of any consequence;

*After the August recess, Congress faces the same agenda it faced in 2010 and 2011, with two added wrinkles: expiration of the Bush tax cuts and a sequester (across-the-board) of $1.2 trillion in selected, discretionary appropriated accounts;

*By this time, all focus will be on a closely fought Presidential race, and the hand-to-hand combat for Senate and House seats.


Review that list. Think about the likely behavior of the factions within Congress, and the little “Balkan” nations with the Republican Party as this agenda unfolds. Deficits, realistically, will once again reach the $1 trillion mark. Economic growth is likely to be slow. The size of layoffs in the defense industry throughout the country begin to dawn on voters. The debt ceiling question inflames Congressional passions.

Remember this schedule when analysts and pundits tell you the following three things: Congress will pass major infrastructure legislation; Congress will do something serious about deficits; Congress will reach compromise before the elections on defense and the Bush tax cuts.

Not. Going. To. Happen.

And just a final, politically realistic note: if Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination, an interesting “back to where we started” road begins. Romney has endorsed the Medicare reform proposals of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senator Ron Wyden. President Obama announced his opposition to those proposals the very day they were unveiled. That vote that House and Senate Republicans took way back in 2011 on the Ryan Budget Plan, which incorporated fundamental Medicare reform, will come back to haunt Republicans as Democratic strategists roll out the 30-second commercials and the blogosphere machinery.

One would think that the scenario outlined above would concentrate the minds of the House Republican caucus on unity and survival. It probably won’t.

John Boehner still has the hardest job in town.

Recent Posts by Steve Bell



28 Comments so far ↓

  • jamesj

    Pretty realistic analysis, and utterly depressing. The behavior of thought leaders and legislative leaders in the modern Republican party has been really damaging to the party and the country. They’ve gotten quite ideological at the expense of pragmatism during a time of great need and crisis. We’ve seen them pull the country in opposing directions (extreme austerity vs. extreme fear-mongering about jobs/demand) to the point of tearing a hole in our national unity and coherence and damaging the credit of the nation in the eyes of investors and businesses everywhere. Those who know better (I believe there are many) failed to stand up and lead those who acted irresponsibly. They did this in hopes of gaining political footholds. Well, mission accomplished, but they’ve spit in the rest of our faces as they’ve shored up the most ignorant sectors of their voting blocks by spreading fear and falsehood. As they flip-flop relentlessly and oppose ideas they invented and championed years ago just to prevent any progress in Congress and embarrass the president I can only shake my head in disgust.

  • LFC

    Not. Going. To. Happen.

    Yes, but to Republicans that’s a feature … as long as they don’t hold the White House. They are so afraid that successful and effective legislation will make Obama look good that they’ll do anything they can to sabotage it.

    John Boehner still has the hardest job in town.

    Boehner has exactly the position he created for himself. He was more than happy to hop on the crazy train whenever he thought it suited him. Now he’s got the caucus that he fought for and I should feel bad for him? As you sow, John. As you sow.

  • Reflection Ephemeral

    The Congressional GOP isn’t Balkanized. Romney has far, far more endorsements than Paul or Santorum.

    The Congressional GOP consists on the one hand of people like John Boehner, who think that the ACA was a socialist government takeover of the economy, and on the other hand people like Steve King, who think that the election of Pres. Obama could lead to “totalitarian dictatorship.”

    In the Senate, that intellectual ferment has led the Republican Party to gum up the works on every possible vote.

    James Fallows: “Since Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley and the end of the Democrats’ 60-vote majority, Mitch McConnell has flat-out won, and (in my view) the prospects of doing even routine public business have lost, by making the requirement for 60 votes for anything seem normal rather than exceptional. And by eventually leading our major media to present this situation as an “everyone’s to blame” unfortunate and inexplicable snafu, rather than an intended exercise of political power by one side.” http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/10/chronicles-of-false-equivalence-chapter-2-817/246667/

    The GOP has chosen obstructionism. The results in Iowa don’t have a damn thing to do with it.

  • balconesfault

    Gridlock is the GOP’s strategy. There really isn’t a lot of room to negotiate with people whose stated goal is to make sure you fail at whatever you want to accomplish.

    What’s the compromise position in that case?

  • MSheridan

    The size of layoffs in the defense industry throughout the country begin to dawn on voters.

    Not to worry, I read somewhere or other that Republicans think government spending is a bad way to create jobs.

    • The Walking Eye

      I’ve read multiple places that no one is entitled to a job and that you must be one step ahead of the curve at all times to ensure you have a job. Definitely read that here. :)

      So with that logic, I feel no sympathy for the people who will be laid off. They’re just lazy. (Did I do that right? Was it callous enough?)

      • MSheridan

        The tone is just about perfect, but aren’t you missing some of the buzzwords?

        Any concern for the individuals losing these jobs robs them of the dignity of succeeding or failing on their own merits. America is the land of rugged individualism and we must stand firm in opposing the efforts of liberals to turn it into some sort of collectivist nanny-state nightmare in which men (and women) who would otherwise be free are reduced to dependent infants suckling at the government teat.

  • TerryF98

    “One would think that the scenario outlined above would concentrate the minds of the House Republican caucus on unity and survival.”

    It would be nice if it concentrated their minds on ………………Governing!

  • ggore

    This voter has had enough of these tactics, and will take great pleasure in voting against any incumbent that is running for election this year. I don’t care whether it is a Republican or Democrat, either.

    And before I vote FOR anyone, I will ask them one simple question: “Are you willing to compromise in order to get things done for the good of the people of the United States, not just for the good of your party?” If their answer is “No”, then I will refuse to vote for them.

    The refusal to compromise, primarily by Republicans in the past few years, is almost tantamount to treason in this voter’s eyes, and I will not tolerate it any more. I won’t tolerate it in Republicans, nor will I tolerate it in Democrats. It has done actual documentable damage to this country and I will keep asking my question of candidates until I find someone willing to say “Yes” to it, and then I will vote for that/those persons. It’s a simple thing, but VERY important!

    • LauraNo

      Which democrat is doing this?

      • ggore

        None that I know of, I was just making the point that I will not vote for anyone, be they Democrat or Republican, that refuses to compromise in order to be productive. That’s what politics is all about, not “I get my way or the highway”, but everyone gives something for the greater good of the entire country. Sorry for any misunderstanding.

  • Rewena

    Talk a step back and look at the much broader picture. It isn’t just the choice of candidate for president, it is everything.

    This country needs more than 2 parties. It has a for a long time.

    • lupus

      I would add that I object to the fact that voting for someone to represent me only makes them a member of one faction or another. Once in the club, the person becomes just another number for whatever side they happen to choose. Individual preferences no longer matter.

      The problem is one of party loyalty, and the strength of the party structure. Mr. Frum is a classic example of that. He knows better, but he can’t help himself. In the end he defends “his side”. This is even after these same people tossed him to the curb.

  • Oldskool

    Gridlock not forever, only until the base of the Republican party dies off or wises up. I’m going to wait for the die off.

  • zaybu

    Gridlock will remain until the voters vote out the uncompromising crowd. But with the Super PAC acting as attack dogs, spreading their lies and distortions with unlimited funds, I’m not sure the American people will be up to the task. I hope I’m wrong.

    • LauraNo

      You only need to read ggore above. Both sides do it, doncha know? So no need to pay attention; in fact, there is no point in voting, none at all!

  • Anonne

    Mitt Romney or his superHACK have already started carpet-bombing Florida with ads, about how he’s been married to the same woman for donkey years, won’t apologize for America, blah blah. I think I heard the same ad 5 times in 30 minutes. I think I’ll have the commercial memorized in about 2 days.

  • rubbernecker

    What, no post on the Boston Globe’s endorsement of Jon Huntsman? Ouch.

  • ottovbvs

    Republicans are already announcing they are going to block all nominations and create parliamentary chaos. All of which of course plays right into the hands of the president who will make recess appointments, announce all kinds of job creation initiatives that circumvent congress and have huge fights over emotive issues like extending the payroll tax holiday beyond February. Obviously Bell understands this hence his rather despairing little lament about the condition of the GOP. IMHO opinion he’s broadly correct on the electoral implications. If Obama does a half reasonable campaign job, the economy continues to heal and turnout is over 130 million the Dems will hold the presidency and senate, and have a shot at taking the house back. Although it’s better for them if they don’t but win back a lot of house seats leaving the Republicans with a narrow majority BUT shared responsibility for govt!

  • dante

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the GOP “gets away with it” only as long as the Democrats let them. We saw the starting of a backbone with the payroll tax cut, and then again with Obama’s recess appointments. Any time the GOP is put in the awkward position of *defending* their obstinate behavior, they fold almost immediately. I personally think that the thing that’s allowed the Republicans to act this way is the theoretical filibuster. There’s no forcing Senators to get up on the floor and talk for hours at a time defending their need to block this legislation. There’s no all-night legislative sessions (I don’t think that they’ve “brought out the cots”at all in the past year). The Democrats (up until now?) have been perfectly willing to adopt a “ho hum” attitude, allowing the Republicans to block legislation without it being seen by most of the American public.

    Shine a bright enough light on Congress, and the obstructionist Republicans will scatter like….. well, you fill in the blank.

    • PracticalGirl

      I personally think that the thing that’s allowed the Republicans to act this way is the theoretical filibuster.

      Bingo! As much caterwauling as Democrats and supporters have thrown at the obstructionist Republicans, we forget to look at the enablers in the equation. If Democrats really believe in the legislation, they should make Republicans take it all the way. One marathon session of reading from Reader’s Digest, the phone book or L.Ron Hubbard that takes Cantor, Boehner and company away from the cameras and into the process might be enough to make them think twice.

      • dante

        The problem is that Democrats don’t realize how politically untenable some of the Republican positions are. Cordray is a perfect example of this: If the Republicans want to stonewall, let’s have a NATIONAL DEBATE on consumer protection and obstructionism. With a theoretical filibuster there’s one quiet vote that ends up on page 12 of the NYT. I’d bet most Americans don’t even know that there *is* a CPB, or that it was part of a law passed a year and a half ago. Making the minority party (and I’ll say this for EITHER side, regardless of who is in power and who isn’t) stand up and defend their side publicly in front of the American people is a great way of seeing exactly how the American people feel about it. If the majority of Americans agree with the majority, the filibuster isn’t going to last long.

    • balconesfault

      I personally think that the thing that’s allowed the Republicans to act this way is the theoretical filibuster.

      Been saying this for years. Screw comity – when the other side is waging all out war (and an indefinite hold or filibuster being the default position for pretty much any Obama nominee constitutes all out war by the GOP against Obama’s being able to govern effectively) it’s time to quit being nice. This is something I have consistently faulted Harry Reid for.

  • PracticalGirl

    Found this at TalkRadioSucks… A revealing look at Eric Cantor on “60 Minutes”… One of the slimiest excuses for why gridlock exists today, based on his definition of “compromise” or “cooperation” or whatever the kids are calling it these days.

    NOTE: In the 10th minute, Stahl presses Cantor re: Ronald Reagan’s compromises as a leader and his tax hikes after tax cuts. Cantor’s press guy wages protest and, forgetting that, well, it’s historical fact, has his own mini “You LIE!!” moment.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOZcDkN1NKM

  • Stewardship

    The time is ripe for an independent candidacy. While a credible person running as an independent/No Labels/America Decides candidate probably doesn’t win the White House, I think such a candidate could garner 30% of the popular vote. More importantly, a high profile candidate running for president might motivate independents to run for Congress. If just 10 independents win House seats and 3 win Senate seats, it could force both major parties to come to the middle to earn those decisive votes.

    With Congress’ approval rating around 5% now, I think even the most entrenched incumbents are at risk in 2012. An independents might have great appeal to a huge swath of voters sick and tired of the games played on the Hill.

    • balconesfault

      If just 10 independents win House seats and 3 win Senate seats, it could force both major parties to come to the middle to earn those decisive votes.

      For the record, the Senate has functionally had 3 Independent seats in recent years. And that’s not counting Bernie Sanders, but it is counting Joe Lieberman, and I’m going to toss in Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu as well.

      All 3 may have been caucusing with the Dems, and the latter two might even have (D) after their name – but anytime a Senator signals they’re ready to join an opposition filibuster more than once or twice in a session, they’re essentially an Independent.

    • LauraNo

      As far as I’m concerned, NoLabels, etc. are there for no reason but to try to siphon off democratic votes. Which puts the no-holds-barred crazies in more of a majority than they already have. Someday we will learn the Kochs (and or like minded souls) have been funding those groups, mark my words.

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