Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Red light, green light, 1, 2, 3...

By Carl 

So it seems that the historic bipartisan budget deal in the House last week – historic, in that it's been years since we didn't just pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the government – is falling on enough deaf ears in the Senate to be a problem:

The prospect that the budget would clear the cloture hurdle brightened Monday, when three GOP senators -- Orrin Hatch of Utah, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia -- announced that they would vote yes. A fourth, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, expressed his support on Sunday. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona also said they would vote in favor of cloture last week.

But unlike in the House, where Speaker John Boehner aggressively battled conservative groups trying to kill the bill, GOP leaders in the Senate are signaling opposition, or at least resistance, to the package.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has not said which way he will vote Tuesday, but he is widely expected to oppose the measure. Similarly, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas announced his opposition Monday morning on his campaign's website -- a step his Senate office was unwilling to take. It was later deleted after reporters from The Associated Press asked for confirmation of a Cornyn quote that appeared on the Internet site Breitbart.com.

"Senator Cornyn opposes this budget deal because it breaks previously set spending caps and goes in the 'wrong direction' with regards to entitlement spending," according to the post. His Senate spokeswoman, Kate Martin, would only say that Cornyn would take "a close look" at the measure and is "concerned" that it reverses some of the spending cuts won in a hard-fought 2011 budget pact.

Interesting. It appears that hard-line conservatives in the Senate have drawn a line in the sand. The political implications of this are larger than the legislative implications (the bill overcomes any filibuster and becomes law, with minor amendments).

For one thing, the Republican nominee-apparent, Paul Ryan (by dint of running as the Veep candidate with Mitt Romney), was one of the driving forces behind this deal. The thinking on his part had to include a calculation of the national political implications of being out in front of a bipartisan budget bill ahead of an election that will likely feature Chris Christie, who's main attraction is his ability to bring Democrats on board with his agenda.

A defeat of the bill would hamper Ryan in ways that can't even begin to be described, well beyond the public embarrassment of the exercise. Ryan has effectively run up against the other part of the political equation here: the fact that the Teabaggers have threatened to primary Republicans by the bushel if they don't genuflect more to the right wing of the party. Senators in red states can't afford that, since many of them already will have a fight on their hands – you can gerrymander districts, but it's hard to gerrymander an entire state – in the general election with the backlash from the government shutdown and the general perception that they aren't working for us, but for special interests and their own grip on power.

A primary fight could devastate campaign coffers, particularly if the likes of Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers decide to get involved. This is not a guarantee, however. Adelson seemed frustrated with the 2012 results of his spending and the Kochs have already pined for what they have ignited.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell already faces a primary challenge ahead of his encounter with what appears to be an Alison Lundergan Grimes candidacy, who polls extremely well in her state and already has funding pouring into her campaign. He can't afford this risk, but he also can't afford to stand up against a bill the House Speaker pushed on him.

So right now, we're watching an huge game of "Red Light, Green Light" on Capitol Hill: Senators running up to mics, only to freeze right after they speak. A sound bite for the campaign, and a vote to move the country forward, however haltingly.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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