“Don't raise your voice, improve your argument.” Bishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa, 2004.
I must’ve used this quote a thousand times (primarily mitigating fights between contentious children of different ages) without even realizing its origin. I’ve often wondered why emotion-driven youths (and big people, too) simply amp up the volume when intellectually dueling with others rather than maintaining the discussion at an even keel and perhaps lulling their opponents into listening to what they’re saying – or screaming even louder.
I also don’t know much about Desmond Tutu himself, other than recalling him as calm and thoughtful during the struggle over apartheid in the 1980’s – and maybe also for never shouting in a public place. I wouldn’t know. Tutu undoubtedly channeled faith into his demeanor, as no one envisions Jesus himself howling and swearing to reinforce one of his many teachings.
But yelling and cursing was precisely what some House Republicans did during a caucus meeting last week, with so-called “moderate” GOPers apparently upset with a principled band of conservatives who’d held up legislation to lodge a protest over what they regarded as a sellout by Speaker Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy, you recollect, drew his share of scorn several weeks back for forging an agreement (many would label it a cave-in) with senile president Joe Biden on increasing the imaginary “debt ceiling” in exchange for token spending concessions.
The ill-feelings from McCarthy’s compromise have not dissipated since, and, again, according to reports, representatives from the two ideological sides attacked or defended their respective positions. Was this spat just a healthy part of the party legislative team-building process, or a sign of deeper problems for the House majority?
In an article titled “GOP lawmaker drops f-bomb as moderates bash conservatives over revolt: ‘A little spicy in there’”, Mike Lillis, Mychael Schnell and Emily Brooks reported at The Hill:
“Moderate House Republicans lashed out … against the conservative lawmakers who shut down the chamber floor last week, using a closed-door GOP meeting to accuse the rebels — in apparently profane terms — of undermining the party’s agenda. Reps. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) and Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) castigated the hard-liners, according to a number of lawmakers in the room, in an exchange largely focused on the legislation that was blocked as a result of the conservative revolt.
“One GOP lawmaker, who spoke anonymously to discuss internal conversations, described the meeting as a ‘catharsis’ and said it included cursing. ‘A little spicy in there,’ the lawmaker added… Lawler was angry that a regulatory bill he’s championed was held up when the conservatives shut down action on the floor, according to Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) …
“The impassioned statements from lawmakers came the morning after the members who had held up floor action announced they would allow votes on party-line measures to proceed on the House floor as they negotiate a new ‘power-sharing agreement’ with Speaker Kevin McCarthy.”
Was this Republican ruckus just a family-type squabble among ill-mannered kids or indicative of something more sinister? Regular politics watchers recall the scenes from the first days of this congressional term when members of the new GOP majority took days and something like 20 votes to elect a Speaker. According to news reports at the time, most of the holdouts finally agreed to vote for McCarthy because he allegedly gave in to demands from principled conservatives to conduct the House’s business in an advantageous way to the majority party.
Many signs indicate McCarthy’s made sincere attempts to keep his word, but when it came down to “negotiating” with old crook Biden last month, the conservative naysayers blamed California Kevin for giving-in way too easily, resulting in an “agreement” that included a $4 trillion increase in borrowing power instead of the $1.5 trillion GOP House members had consented to, and, in the process, removed the spending issue from the political ring until after the 2024 election.
Yes, technically speaking, there were some good parts of the McCarthy/Biden pact, including spending caps and other process limitations designed to deter future congresses from going overboard on appropriations. There were also moderate restorations of work requirements for welfare recipients – but the reforms only went so far.
What the “agreement” did do was lay the groundwork for a major partisan battle later this summer and into the fall, as Congress works to legislate the budget the old-fashioned way, by passing appropriations bills for ol’ broken-down senile Joe to sign. I seem to recall if the lawmakers settle for a continuing resolution instead of completing work on an appropriations bill that spending automatically reduces to 99 percent of the previous year.
How about that, an automatic cut if the House and Senate can’t get it together and agree to a new spending figure going into the ensuing fiscal year! The battlelines have already been drawn, as McCarthy announced a $130 billion spending cut last week. McCarthy supposedly also told the media that the spending deal forged with Biden was a “ceiling”, not a floor. Did the Speaker truly pull off something meaningful, or was it a temporary play to conservatives to get moving again?
At any rate, the spending war with Democrats should be epic in the coming months, as conservatives and Republicans fight to reduce overall expenditures and Democrats crawl and demagogue for every dime that the original language allows, lest someone in America “suffer” from not having Uncle Sam heading to the bank every day to allot them another subsidy.
Offering the $130 billion cut now was the means McCarthy used to entice the conservative boat-rockers to come onboard with him and to end their legislative blockade. This was also the main source of angst for the “moderates” who didn’t think it fair for the limited government contingent to hold up everything else while they haggled with wishy-washy Kevin to keep a promise he made back in January.
Under the “I told you so” banner, conservatives figured this type of stalemate would happen. McCarthy understands he has only a four-vote majority, meaning if he loses four or more of his caucus members that he’d need Democrats to pass anything. The conservatives also recognize this situation, and it won’t take much for them to withhold their votes unless California Kevin dances a fiscal responsibility jig and works in more spending reductions to the House package.
Of course, whatever passes the House must run the Senate gauntlet (where Democrats hold a one-seat majority, plus cackling vice president Kamala Harris’s tie-breaker) and then be worked out in reconciliation between the two chambers. The dreaded government shutdown looms if all parties can’t come together. But again, if the congress persons can’t remove the kinks and instead pass a continuing resolution, an automatic spending cut occurs. This will incentivize Democrats to pass something in order to preserve their extra money.
Another potential snag for Democrats involves trying to obtain the assent of senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, two of a rare breed of liberals who aren’t rubber stamps for big spending and high taxes. It could be argued that Senate Majority Leader “Chucky” Schumer will need to conduct negotiations within negotiations to satiate Sinema, who renounced her Democrat party membership last year, and Manchin, who’s in a tight spot as the last vestige of Democrat dominance in once bluer than blue West Virginia.
All of these factors contribute to the possibility that this year’s federal budget talks could turn out to be more like budget shouts, recriminations, threats, accusations… and general nastiness. Under normal circumstances (i.e., in past years), a government shutdown would almost certainly occur – or a continuing resolution would’ve been passed – but both sides have motivation to do the work before the September 30 deadline this time.
So, is it a big deal that Republicans were screaming and cussing at each other last week? No. These are trial runs for the real business in a few months’ time, when party unity will be paramount to prevail in the budget scrum.
Meanwhile, conservatives have thrown down the gauntlet – if McCarthy doesn’t keep his word and hold out for the spending cuts he previewed, he might very well face a motion to vacate the Speaker’s chair. And with Democrats likely voting with the conservatives to oust him, California Kevin could be in real trouble unless he holds the line (and doesn’t go begging for Democrat support to pass some “compromise” that satisfies no one) on appropriations.
McCarthy could conceivably cut a deal with a few Democrats to retain his position, but then he’d be in real peril. Former House GOP leaders John Boehner and Paul Ryan ended up resigning because they forged too many pacts with Democrats to provide the appearance of “getting things done,” or “legislating”.
Will California Kevin follow the same path? Most of it is up to him to recognize where his bread is buttered.
No one ever said Kevin McCarthy’s mission became easier once he earned the votes to become Speaker. McCarthy came into the process with a reputation as a dealmaker rather than a stalwart negotiator, and conservatives are counting on him to keep his word no matter what the potential consequences. For once, let the Democrats learn what it feels like to “cave”.
A little boisterous arguing is good for people, right?
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