What happened was simple: House GOP applied their fiscal flateartherism to a bill that would genuinely affect their own constituencies. It's fine when the cuts are to abstract groups in other people's districts -- welfare queens and lazy jobless folks and those leeches living the sweet life on food stamps -- but when the big sequester-level cuts have to be applied in terms of anything other than empty rhetoric, they look all too real and all too suicidal. Brian Beutler explains:
...In normal times, the House and Senate would each pass a budget, the differences between those budgets would be resolved, and appropriators in both chambers would have binding limits both on how much money to spend, and on which large executive agencies to spend it.
But these aren’t normal times. Republicans have refused to negotiate away their budget differences with Democrats, and have instead instructed their appropriators to use the House GOP budget as a blueprint for funding the government beyond September.
Like all recent GOP budgets, this year’s proposes lots of spending on defense and security, at the expense of all other programs. Specifically, it sets the total pool of discretionary dollars at sequestration levels, then funnels money from thinly stretched domestic departments (like Transportation and HUD) to the Pentagon and a few other agencies. But that’s all the budget says. It doesn’t say how to allocate the dollars, nor does it grapple in any way with the possibility that cutting domestic spending so profoundly might be unworkable. It’s an abstraction.
So basically, Republicans tried to get Paul Ryan's budget numbers to survive in the wild and they died immediately. The idea that the federal spending can be slashed so deeply is complete fantasy. Beutler writes that realists "have long suspected that [GOP] votes for Ryan’s budgets were a form of cheap talk. That Republicans would chicken out if it ever came time to fill in the blanks. Particularly the calls for deep but unspecified domestic discretionary spending cuts."
And that's exactly what happened. They pretended the Ryan Budget was a real thing, they colored within its lines, and they couldn't get it to work. It's all BS. "It turns out that when you draft bills enumerating all the specific cuts required to comply with the budget’s parameters, they don’t come anywhere close to having enough political support to pass," Beutler reports. "Even in the GOP House. Slash community development block grants by 50 percent, and you don’t just lose the Democrats, you lose a lot of Republicans who care about their districts. Combine that with nihilist defectors who won’t vote for any appropriations unless they force the President to sign an Obamacare repeal bill at a bonfire ceremony on the House floor, and suddenly you’re nowhere near 218."
Credit at least one Republican leader with accepting reality after it kicked his ass. "With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted three months ago," appropriations chair Hal Rogers said. "Thus I believe that the House has made its choice: sequestration -- and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts -- must be brought to an end." The Ryan plan simply can't dig up enough money to fund government. Period.
And this means that the long predicted coming budget fight may already be over. "If House Republicans can’t establish a position of their own," we're told, "then the Senate will drive the whole process (its Transportation/HUD bill will probably pass on a bipartisan basis this week) and appropriations will be extended past September one way or another on the strength of Democratic votes."
About the Senate; Republicans are defecting from Mitch McConnell's extremist wing. While he's trying to whip No votes for the Senate version of THUD, he appears to be failing. Mitch still wants some sort of budget based on Ryan's imaginary numbers, so he's trying to filibuster the Senate's THUD. The problem is, what could possibly pass that would satisfy Ryan deadenders?
It can't work, so nothing. When it comes time to put up or shut up, shut up wins by default, because put up doesn't exist. If they pass a bill that sticks to the Ryan rules, they wind up with cuts they can't live with. If they don't pass any bill at all, it's the same result. It's a game that can't be won, no matter how long you play it.
McConnell's desperation is based in one simple fact: if they pass THUD, they admit that the GOP agenda is unworkable and that the Republican Party can't govern. Meanwhile, abandoning Ryan's pretend budget means alienating the base, who don't care about reality. They've been told over and over -- by many of these same Republicans, as well as talk radio and Fox News -- that if we just slap the lobster claws and caviar out of poor people's mouths, we'll have plenty of money to fund whatever we want to fund. They're not going to like finding out that this argument is ridiculous horsecrap and there's real danger of primary battles between Tea Party anger-junkies and veterans of reality, where even if the incumbent comes out on top, the Tea Party voters stay home in November.
That's not how you take over the Senate and that's not how you set up a credible White House bid for 2016. But McConnell and Boehner and the 'baggers are up against a powerful enemy.
[photo via Wikimedia Commons]