Commentary on Republicans, Libertarians & Politics

Category: Congress

Freedom Caucus Effects

In 2011, there were 87 new Republicans elected to the House. Many were elected in the wave of Tea Party sentiment that wanted to shake things up in Washington. Many wondered whether they would temper their views over time in Washington or whether they would move Washington more to their point of view.

Bending Washington to Their Will

They don’t seem to have changed their views at all, if anything have hardened their opinions and are less willing to compromise if they ever were. The Republican majority has been helped by the increasing influence of conservative media as well as gerrymandered districts. (Although gerrymandering has helped Democrats in other states. It is unfortunate because it makes states redder or bluer and less purple which might cause people to move to the middle instead of going to the edges of the spectrum.)

Their original target was discretionary government spending but they have had a number of major impacts:

  1. Discretionary spending has dropped to 6.5% from 9.1% of the economy in just 5 years, 2010 to 2015.
  2. Social issue fights have been resurrected and are in full swing
  3. Gridlock – It is much harder to get things done.
  4. The government shutdown in 2013
  5. They almost closed Homeland Security
  6. They forced John Boehner to resign

Out of the group, there are about 40 who are part of the Freedom Caucus. They originally found common cause in reducing the size of the federal government. Now they are targeting all sorts of Obama policies. They have really honed in on funding for Planned Parenthood.


More than these other things though, they seem to want power. They don’t seem to realize or care that they are a distinct minority within the Republican Party much less the United States. They want a greater say in how the House of Representatives is run and in how legislation is written and the process that it makes its way through the House. They figure that by changing the rules by which the House operates that they can get more power and influence.

They are being supported by their constituents at home. At least they think they are. Of course, the constituents who really like what they are doing are giving them positive feedback. Even though these people are a minority just as these Congressmen are in the minority. But it creates an echo chamber of self reinforcement and congratulations.

They tend to come from rural areas in the south and the west.

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Paul Ryan for Speaker?

Paul Ryan said that he had no interest in being Speaker of the House. Although he is very conservative, he may not be conservative for the Freedom Caucus and other extreme right wing Republicans in the House of Representatives.

When it appeared no one was going to satisfy everyone, a number of people suggested Ryan. He still said no, probably smartly because right now it looks like it would be hard for anyone to keep the House in order. It is almost like there are two Republican Parties and they are at war with each other. However, with pressure mounting, Ryan said he might do it if everyone was in agreement and willing to work together. (Sorry Paul, but fat chance.)

Ryan Has the Votes?

This Wednesday it looks as if Ryan now has enough votes to lock up the election. He would get some but not all of the votes from the Freedom Caucus. He had been looking for a unanimous vote. Now apparently he is thinking that this might be good enough.

Interestingly, this is almost back where we were with Boehner. The exception is that Boehner could have been elected but because the Freedom Caucus wouldn’t vote for him, he would have needed Democratic votes to get in. Something he didn’t want. Besides other problems and gaffes, this was Kevin McCarthy’s problem as well.  It appears that Ryan can now get elected with just Republican votes.

A Split or More Intransigence?

Interestingly, all of this may have caused a split within the Freedom Caucus and made it a little bit less coherent and a bit less to be feared? Yet at the same time, outside conservative groups are starting to push back against Ryan. Republican voters are in a feisty mood as well. A recent poll showed a desire for a new Speaker who is not quick to compromise. They don’t even care if it leads to a government shut down. (We thought politics was about the art of the compromise. Not, I will go home if I don’t get my way.)

The Freedom Caucus wants some changes that decreases the power of the Speaker. Ryan may be willing to go along with some but wants something in return. He wants to make it harder to have a procedural vote to oust the Speaker. This is what happened to Boehner and the conservatives consider it one of their most potent weapons. Ryan has told some of his compatriots that he doesn’t mind getting shot from the front but he doesn’t want to get shot from the back. Still an interesting circus.

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Speaker of the House Anyone?

Well, things just got stranger. First John Boehner and now Kevin McCarthy. It seems like no one wants to be Speaker of the House. Just minutes before the Republicans were supposed to vote for their nominee to be Speaker of the House, McCarthy pulled out. The Huffington Post had a good article about the event.

No one doubted that he would win the nomination. And since the Republicans are in the majority, that means he would have won over whatever Democratic candidate was selected and become the Speaker.

Apparently he needed 218 votes to beat the Democrats and felt that he couldn’t get that many because of the hard conservatives in the Republican Party. This doesn’t make a lot of sense because they weren’t likely to vote in favor of a Democrat.

He actually ceded the point while talking to reporters afterwards. He knew he could win, but he felt that it would be stronger if the Republican Party had a candidate that could get a unanimous vote from the Republicans. Get a vote for all 247 of them. He felt that maybe a new face was needed that everyone could unite behind.

There are 25 conservative members who have blocked legislation or altered legislation that Boehner wanted. Because of House rule changes and the fact that there are no longer earmarks, the Speaker and leaders of the ruling party no longer have as much influence. One of the conservative block felt that McCarthy’s decision was seat of the pants and was typical of the way the old guard was running things, with no long term planning.

In Europe, the parliaments cobble together coalitions. If a right party and a far right party can’t work together, then the right party might work with another party that was in the center. This is happening somewhat in Congress. The only reason that the government didn’t shut down recently was that Boehner got votes from Democrats. He couldn’t get enough from his own party to keep the government operating.

Moderate Republicans see that it is likely that they will need to make more alliances with the Democrats. This may even include electing the next Speaker of the House.

Does that mean that the conservatives shot themselves in the foot and they might end up with a more liberal Leader than McCarthy? McCarthy is pretty conservative and helped get a lot of these renegades elected. So it is a very odd situation.

McCarthy will continue as House Leader which is the number two position in Congress. He also gave as an influencing factor in his decision, his comments about the Benghazi investigating committee and Hillary Clinton. He commended them for hurting Clinton politically and later said he could have said it much better. However, he has been getting heat for the comments.

The conservatives feel this is a great things an opens things up. They also feel that because their candidate, Daniel Webster, had played spoiler that this made him now the front runner. This despite the fact that this hard conservative group makes up a small percentage of all the Republicans in Congress. We shall see.

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Boehner’s Move Backfires, Splits Republicans Further

John Boehner saw his announcement of resigning from his position of Speaker of the House as leading to more unity in the Republican Party. However it seems to be having the opposite effect as pointed out in a NY Times article.

His move has made the hard right Congressmen and Presidential candidates even more emboldened than even before. The Republicans think of themselves as disciplined and orderly, but they have been anything but recently.

The top 3 Republican presidential candidates have never run for or held an elected position before. Dozens of the Congressmen were elected in 2010 or 2012 and were elected with the goal of dramatically reducing the size of the federal government.

And the Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited political donations has allowed billionaires to back individual candidates and has reduced the influence of the national party.

The dramatic split in the Republican Party is going to make it even harder for any legislation to get passed, particularly anything of significance.

Rather than Boehner’s departure smoothing differences, it seems like both sides are digging in and getting more intransigent. The more mainstream Republicans (it would be hard to call any Republican moderate anymore) are starting to push back at the tactics of the hard right. They say their tactics have accomplished nothing and have cost the Republican Party and sullied its reputation.

John Kasich, the Governor of Ohio who is running for president, asks if the hard right are just yelling and screaming. They were elected to get something accomplished and they have been ineffective at best and disruptive and having a negative impact at worst.

Many Republicans are so focussed on career politicians being bad and wanting a turnover in leadership that Marco Rubio, Senator and presidential candidate and career politician is trying to portray himself as a change agent.

The hard line group has about 50 members. That is not enough to get anything done and they have not put any reasonable candidate forward for Speaker who is electable by the whole House. It is expected that Boehner’s number two, Kevin McCarthy will succeed him as Speaker.

The hardliners feel that there hasn’t been any real change and wanted to shut the government down again but were thwarted by the Republican leadership and the Democrats. The leadership felt it would just hurt the Republicans again, just like the last time.

The hardliners are likely to try and prevent raising the debt limit and to shut down the Import Export bank.

Politicians are supposed to be expert in the art of dialogue and compromise. The hardliners don’t seem to have any clue about either concept. They are just angry that the Republicans don’t have 60 people in the Senate to prevent Democratic filibusters and they don’t have a two thirds majority in the House to be able to override a presidential veto. They just seem to be stewing in their own juices. And because of their vitriol, they are making it ever less likely that they will get the 60 or the two thirds. To get those extra seats, they need to pick up more seats in swing states. They are so short sighted and idealistic that they don’t even seem to realize that they are hurting themselves and their goals. One Republican fundraiser says that moving further to the right is suicidal.

Perhaps they should realize there is a reason that billionaires want them in office. Did they ever stop to think that perhaps that they were being used by the billionaires and against the population in general?

One congressman said they should come together and come up with a plan before they come up with a person. Good idea but he probably won’t be listened to.

In the presidential election, the candidates have a tightrope to walk. They need to keep the base energized, they don’t want to upset the large donors who don’t want to lose three presidential elections in a row, and they also need to be able to appeal to enough independents to win in the general election. Tough to do. The fundraiser said that if Ted Cruz was the Republican nominee for president that that they would lose in 45 states. He feels a peace maker and bridge builder is needed and not a flame thrower.

Some people feel that because of this that people like Jeb Bush will bounce back in the presidential race. They say though that if the hardliners shut the government down, the Republicans can kiss the presidential general election goodbye.

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