Is another government shutdown debt limit crisis likely?
Forget possibly being a centimeter into a new political era. There are increasing sings that if some political players have miscalculated there could be another government shutdown. And there are rumblings that another debt limit confrontation could be on the horizon due to the need for GOPers to appear tough to the party’s conservative base, the looming 2014 and 2016 elections, and ambitious GOPers attemps to placate conservative anger over Congressional party leaders “caving” to (the 21st century word for “compromise with”) Democrats.
The signs are real, not manufactured — and they are coupled with the fact that November was a huge fundraising month for the Democrats, which is being attributed to reaction over Republicans’ hard line.
SIGN ONE: Rep. Paul Ryan, who was seen as the “adult in the room” in his role in reaching a bipartisan compromise on the budget, is now raising the issue of using the debt limit to extract concessions from the Democrats once again.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) signaled that Republicans would not raise the debt ceiling next year without some sort of concessions from Democrats, saying lawmakers were still crafting their strategy.
“We, as a caucus, along with our Senate counterparts, are going to meet and discuss what it is we want to get out of the debt limit,” Mr. Ryan said on Fox News Sunday. “We don’t want ‘nothing’ out of the debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight.”
The U.S. government spends more money than it brings in through taxes, which means the Treasury Department has to borrow money by issuing debt. The government can only borrow money up to a certain level -called the debt ceiling – which is set by Congress. In October, lawmakers agreed to “suspend” the debt limit until Feb. 7, 2014. The White House has said it will no longer negotiate with Republicans on conditions for raising the debt limit, but many Republicans have said they will only vote to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for budget changes like spending cuts.
Mr. Ryan was not specific about what precisely Republicans might demand. Early last year, Republicans came back from a meeting in Williamsburg, Va. and passed a bill that suspended the debt ceiling but pushed the Senate to pass a budget resolution, something the Senate had not done in several years. The Senate, led by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D., Wash.), passed a resolution a few months later.
In October, many Republicans said they would only raise the debt ceiling in exchange for big changes to the White House’s health care law, or big spending cuts. But the GOP eventually backed down over public backlash from the government shutdown.
Using the debt ceiling once again would not be entirely surprising. Some Republicans think it’s a perfectly legitimate tactic. Meanwhile, Ryan has taken a lot of political incoming missiles from his potential 2016 GOP Presidential nomination rivals for being involved in a compromise with Democrats. The first sign that he wanted to safeguard his creds with the Tea Party came when he made it clear he didn’t agree with House Speaker John Boehner’s peppery condemnation of conservative groups that were opposed to the budget deal. His position here can and will correctly be seen as trying to compensate for his role in that deal.
It’s also likely a reflection of the fact that Barack Obama is increasingly perceived as a hugely weakened political figure who is not on the ascent in the polls or in his time left in office.
This could lead to Demcorats taking a harder line in the future, as Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore notes:
But since we’ve just pretty recently seen that calling the Republicans’ bluff on debt limit threats is the first successful Democratic strategy on the subject, the time will come pretty soon when the White House and congressional Democrats are going to have to reassert a united front against any negotiations over a debt limit increase….
….If this message is sent and received right away, Members of Congress can end the session on a positive note and wish each other a happy new year (which will not, unfortunately, be shared with the long-term unemployed). But you don’t say “Ho-Ho-Ho” to a man threatening to blow up the economy if he isn’t allowed to liberate more people from the terrible affliction of government assistance with trifles like food and shelter.
But the budget deal was a miiestone: it was the first time Ryan worked seriously and close with Democrats — and his clout with Republicans can make all the difference in the world in a compromise, as First Read notes:
In the past, your First Read authors have made this observation about House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI): Despite all the attention he’s received on budget matters, he had never once seriously compromised with Democrats in an attempt to get “something.” After all, he was a “NO” vote on Simpson-Bowles, even as he was rhetorically praising the work of the group. And his budgets — even after being on the losing ticket in the 2012 race — never budged an inch. So with that said, we want to underscore the role that Ryan played in forging this bipartisan budget deal. “Government has to function. And we saw the specter of two possible government shutdowns in 2014, one in January and one in October,” he said on “Meet the Press” over the weekend. “I don’t think that’s good for anybody. It’s not good for the country.” Yes, the budget deal was the bare minimum. And yes, Ryan himself is saying that House Republicans might not raise the debt ceiling next year without concessions from Democrats. But the fact is, Ryan — for the first time — used his considerable political capital with conservatives to work with Democrats. And without him, this deal probably doesn’t pass as smoothly as it did. While there has been a ton of focus on Speaker Boehner speaking out against some of the conservative groups, realize, Ryan’s authorship on this deal was probably more important in getting a majority of the GOP conference than Boehner’s fighting words against Heritage or the Club.
SIGN TWO: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is opposing the budget deal and while it’s still likely to pass “likely” is not certainty. And McConnell’s action again illustrates how sending messages to key constituents is often the top priority in Congress, even if a politician apparently doesn’t really want the action he is seemingly endorsing:
When internal GOP strife has paralyzed the House, Republican senators — emancipated from the gerrymander and the pressures of biannual elections — have managed to forge necessary alliances with Democrats and pressure the lower chamber into action.
But right now we’re witnessing a dramatic role reversal, which could threaten passage of a crucial budget bill, and underscores the delicate balance Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell must strike between his leadership responsibilities and his political obligation to defeat his primary challenger, Matt Bevin.
…The bill is in relative limbo for several reasons, but chief among them is that McConnell can’t affirmatively whip for or against it. He’s personally opposed to the legislation, supposedly because it eases sequestration’s budget caps, but you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to suspect that his primary challenge is motivating his opposition, too. At the same time, he doesn’t oppose it so strongly that he’s willing to kill it with a filibuster. He knows that if it dies, there’s a strong chance that the government will shut down again, and he’s vociferously opposed to letting that happen again….
….So he’s in a familiar bind. “Vote no, hope yes.” His whip, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, faces the same conundrum.
Suddenly John Boehner is the adult figure in the Republican leadership. By uniting in support of the bill, and taking outside interest groups head-on, House GOP leaders offered their members protection from transgressing against the right. They created a human shield around their vulnerable members. McConnell, by contrast, created an every-man-for-himself environment in his conference. The leadership void has produced a dangerous collective action problem. It’s in the party’s interest for this bill to pass, but absent a guarantee that a large number of Republicans will vote yes, it’s in the interest of each individual Republican to vote no.
There are enough Democratic votes to give it solid support — but it is NOT a 100 percent given that it’ll pass, as CNN notes.
The budget deal struck by Republican and Democratic lawmakers that easily passed the House of Representatives last week has run into some opposition in the Senate. But according to CNN’s vote count, the deal appears to be nearing passage.
There are currently a total of 33 aye votes for the budget, according to the count, with three Republicans joining 29 Democrats and one independent. All no votes, according to the count, are coming from Republicans, with 20 senate offices telling CNN they plan to vote against the deal.
While Democrats do not have the 50 votes needed for final passage, top aides in both parties privately expressed confidence on Friday the bill will get the necessary support, even if a couple of wary moderate Democrats end up voting “no.”
But before the measure faces a final vote, it will need to pass the higher threshold of 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles. But Republicans – like Richard Burr of North Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona – have said they plan to back the motions that will eventually allow Democrats to only need a straight majority to pass the bill.
As we said on Friday, we’ve entered Bizarro Washington where the usually divided and almost-always partisan House of Representatives passes a budget deal by an overwhelming 332-94 vote, but where that same deal is far from a sure thing in the Senate. But before tomorrow’s cloture vote, we can now say that there appear to be the 60 votes needed to clear the procedural hurdle. Per NBC News’ count, at least five Senate Republicans say they’re supporting “yes” on the cloture vote — Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). In fact, Johnson released this statement on Sunday: “Although I disagree with a number of provisions in the bill, on balance the good outweighs the bad. As long as the Senate does nothing to worsen the bill, I intend to support it.” What’s more, NBC’s Kasie Hunt says that GOP Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), John Hoeven (R-ND), and Bob Corker (R-TN) are on the fence at least when it comes to the decision about whether to cut off debate. Bottom line: While there might be a Democratic defection or two, 60 votes appears to be much more obtainable today than it was late last week. There won’t be much drama.
So if this turns out to be the case, McConnell gets to show conservative voters back home who may be drooling over his Tea Party challenger that he is tough, resolute, won’t cave — but in the end it won’t produce the shutdown that he reportedly really doesn’t want but has to seem willing to cause if he wants to woo straying far right voters. And if for any reason he miscalculates, there could be another shut down punching the economy in the stomach.
SIGN THREE: If Congressional Republicans over the past few months have seemed to be working overtime to show GOP voters that they either are sympathetic to or hardcore members of the far right, it has worked — for Democratic Party fundraisers. Talking Points Memo:
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) announced Monday that it took in a $5.1 million haul in November, setting an off-year fundraising record for that month.
The DSCC ended November with more than $12 million on hand, and was in the red by $5 million. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has not yet reported its November fundraising totals.
“The reckless and irresponsible Republican agenda remains wildly unpopular and Democrats across the country are energized,” Executive Director Guy Cecil said in a statement.
When it comes to Congress you can’t say “let the political games begin,” because it’s unending games.