11 February 2014

Backroom Blunders of the Debt Ceiling Donnybrook

During a breakfast at the Capitol Hill Club in which the House Majority Caucus spent a half hour  strategized about fundraising procedures to restore recently cut benefits for military veterans with the debt ceiling vote. But it became clear to House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH 8th) that he would not have the votes to pass the Leadership's initial debt ceiling deal with just GOP votes.

So instead of linking the military cuts with the debt ceiling, Speaker Boehner  opted to put forth a clean debt ceiling through 2015 for a vote. To avoid adding to the deficit, this plan pretends to apply cuts in the eleventh year of a ten year budget, which is fictitious, as the cuts will never happen and prior Congresses can not bind future Congresses.

Boehner's modest proposal did not seem warmly received, hence his "I'm getting this monkey off your back and you're not going to even clap" quip.  Afterwards, the Speaker received a polite golf clap.

In order for a clean debt ceiling to be voted upon, the House Majority violated the informal "Hastert Rule" where legislation needed to get a majority of the majority's vote.  In the  221-201 clean debt ceiling vote, it seemed that most of the Republican votes came from House Leadership, including Speaker Boehner, House Majority Leader Rep.  Eric Cantor (R-VA 7th), House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy R-CA 23rd) and most Republican Committee Chairmen, save House Budget Chair Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI 1st), House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA 5th),  GOP Policy Chair Rep. James Lankford (R-OK 5th) and House Majority Transition Chair Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR 2nd).  It seems that the Cocktail Party was keen on keeping power quietly and threw in with the Democrats.

While the House's clean debt ceiling vote may be characterized as a rare instance of bipartisanship by the Lamestream Media, the move was not well received among conservative activists and veterans.
The House's clean debt ceiling vote was characterized as "complete capitulation" by Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin. Moreover, failing to fix the military retirees cut was a call to arms by Hugh Hewitt and other veterans supporters.

So before the House adjourned for the Washington's Birthday recess (often mistakenly referred to as President's Day), House Leadership scrambled to vote on a Veterans' COLA fix.  Since the legislation had not gone through regular committee process, the legislation needed to earn two thirds majority vote on the Suspension calendar.  While top House Democrats signaled they they would oppose the fix, the bill easily passed the House in a 326-90 vote.   Then the House went into recess for ten days, which meant that the Senate would either approve their versions of the clean debt ceiling and veterans' COLA or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would have to explain why he let the US "default" and why he wants veterans to suffer.

However, there may not be a quick and quiet way to placate the politicos. According to Mark Levin, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was willing to pass a clean debt ceiling on a simple majority vote.  such a process would allow for Congressional kabuki theater.  The Senate has 55 Democrat votes Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is a self-described democratic socialist and Senator Angus King is a Maine Independent yet both caucus with the Majority Senate Democrats. Several Democrats, however, have tough re-election campaigns in Republican leaning states.  So a majority vote allows a few of them to feign being fiscal hawks and the bill passes 51-49.

Once again, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) will not countenance the Congressional two step.  Sen. Cruz questions the future cuts in the Clean Debt Ceiling bill and will require cloture (requiring 60 votes) to cut off debate.  The Byrd rule for simple majorities on budget bills does not apply to the debt ceiling.  Essentially, Sen. Cruz is threatening to filibuster the debt ceiling.

This gets complicated.  A significant snowstorm is threatening to hit Washington Wednesday evening, which could ground Senators from doing their "In District Work Sessions".  But if changes are made to the Clean Debt Ceiling bill, the House is on recess so the alleged debt ceiling deadline would be missed and supposedly the US would go into default.  While this may be as fictitious as the monument closures during the government shutdown, it would give the financial markets jitters and look quite bad in an election year. 

The pressure will be placed on Senator Cruz not to require a Cloture vote.  Aside from his principles, Senator Cruz may be motivated to stand tall for a prospective 2016 Presidential run.  But if a filibuster is engaged,  expect the junior Senator from Texas to be villified by the press and partisans for holding up progress just as Cruz was in September 2013 over Obamacare fixes quasi filibuster

According to Senator Lindsey Graham's two calls to Hugh Hewitt, it is 99% certain that the Senate will bring the House passed Veterans' COLA fix to the floor and passed. It is only $6 billion over ten years and should not be an onerous fix. But when can the revenue enhancement be hidden?

It is lamentable that many of the problems in Washington have a causal nexus with the go-along-to-get-alone attitudes of elites in the Cocktail Party.  Problems are rarely really addressed aside from short burst of rhetoric for the supposed rubes.  So insisting that real cuts are made instead of the fiction of future cuts which will never happen will be the cause celebre of the Left and the Cocktail Party.

No wonder conservatives are fighting for new leadership.

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