by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Here we go again.
A Republican speaker of the House is having trouble corralling backbenchers in a spending showdown with a Democratic president, while any ensuing showdown almost certainly will be blamed on the GOP.
We’ve seen a version of this movie multiple times, and, just like in cinema, the sequels usually don’t get better.
Already, Kevin McCarthy is talking publicly about how unreasonable some members of his caucus are, bomb-thrower Matt Gaetz is saying it’s all McCarthy’s fault, and some Republicans — including the immediate past Republican president — are saying they’d welcome a shutdown. You couldn’t create conditions in a political lab better suited to Democrats’ blaming Republicans and winning public opinion to their side.
It’s healthy for fiscal conservatives to play the bad cop, remind leadership that Republicans got elected to do something different than Democrats would do, and deploy the leverage they have. But overpromising things to their voters while refusing to agree to anything even within their own caucus suggests that they have learned nothing from the past decade.
The obvious GOP play, the one that enabled Republicans to do better than expected in the debt-ceiling fight, is to pass some alternative — almost any alternative — and negotiate from there. As we saw during that fight, Democrats almost don’t know how to handle a House GOP that has its act together well enough to make the first move and set the terms of debate.
Of course, Kevin McCarthy and the vast majority of his caucus already know this. But fiscal fervor, legitimate concerns about how much power leadership has, sheer attention-seeking, and heedless unrealism — as well as procedural questions too complex to get into briefly — make this easier said than done, indeed make it extremely difficult.