John Boehner, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan must look at Nancy Pelosi with envy and admiration. With a 257 to 178 majority after the 2008 election, Pelosi was able to pass the Stimulus Plan and Obamacare; with a 247 to 188 majority after the 2014 election the Republicans are barely able to elect a leader. Some of this is due to the recalcitrance of the 40 member Freedom Caucus, but other factors are also at play. Some considerations:
1. The Republicans have some structural disadvantages of their own creation. When John Boehner talks of his commitment to the institution of the House of Representatives, he means it, having insisted on "regular order" in which legislation makes its way through committees rather than Pelosi's tactic of having large continuing resolutions and omnibus bills which were dictated by the leadership. Secondly, Pelosi had the carrot of earmarks to buy votes - a tool discontinued by the Tea Party-influenced Republicans. A Republican speaker has less authority and fewer tools.
2. Beyond the threat of a veto, it is more difficult when the Speaker does not have the White House on his side. When a vote is close, a call from the President (or his Chief of Staff) can make a difference - particularly if it comes with an offer for help in some other area, like fundraising.
3. Pelosi was highly accomplished and ruthless:
- She came from a safe district which gave her the latitude to take whatever position was necessary. Back home no Democrat or media outlet dares criticize her, regardless of whether she deviates from Democratic orthodoxy to the left or to the right.
- She is a prodigious fundraiser for other Democrats, representing the northern end of Silicon Valley and a major financial center with heavy liberal leanings.
- She has had a strong parliamentary partner in the Senate, capable of bottling up Republican initiatives with the requirement for 60 votes to break a threatened filibuster.
- She can count votes, knowing when she can afford to allow a Congressman to break ranks to appeal to folks back home, and when it is necessary to require that they commit political suicide as she did with Joe Stupak the leader of anti-abortion Democrats whose votes were needed to pass Obamacare.
So, where does this leave a Republican leader facing a need to increase the current $18.1 trillion debt limit by November 3, and reach some 2016 budget accommodation with the President who just vetoed a popular defense budget to bargain for more domestic spending.
Let's be positive:
Paul Ryan has apparently received assurances of support from a super-majority of the 40 member Freedom Caucus, and anticipates endorsement by the 170 member mainstream conservative Republican Study Committee and the 50 member moderate Tuesday Group. He will not travel extensively for fundraising, but had to moderate his demand for a guarantee that there would not be a vote to "vacate the chair" if the Freedom Caucus becomes upset with him.
It would be hard to find a candidate with better conservative financial credentials - having fought as a Vice Presidential candidate, chair of the House Budget Committee, and chair of the House Ways and Means Committee budget for proposals to reform the tax code, balance the budget, and reform entitlements. He has gravitas.
In the House, politics is a team game. Boehner ran out of gas; McCarthy's comments on the Benghazi Committee demonstrated a lack of political acumen; the other candidates for the office received precious little support - even within their sub-caucuses. Hopefully Whip Steve Scalise, Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rogers, and the rest of the leadership team will be up to the task of maintaining order - perhaps with someone from the Freedom Caucus invited to the decision-making meetings.
Few politicians are truly stupid or have a death wish. Unlike the pundits like Rush Limbaugh who make a living creating dissatisfaction, even the Freedom Caucus members understand that their disarray increases the power of Pelosi's Democrats and provides good talking points for presidential candidate Hillary and the New York Times.
And, with 218 votes needed to pass legislation and a total of 247 to work with, the leadership nose counters can give a pass to a few members who need to look over their shoulders at potential primary opponents.
It looks as if Ryan has allowed the House Republicans (and indirectly, the presidential candidate) to dodge a bullet. And he has the potential to be truly outstanding.
This week's video is a Fox critique of Hillary's Benghazi testimony. Judge Napolitano's comments at minute 2 are the most interesting - if we had an impartial Justice Department.
bill bowen - 10/23/2015