When Washington Republicans’ decided to moderate their substantive position on immigration reform but no other issues after the 2012 election, I don’t think they gamed out all the ways it would reinforce the bad habits they established over the last two years.
That choice has actually made it harder for the GOP to dial back the procedural aggressiveness — the constant creation of legislative crises — that destroyed their standing with the public shortly after they captured the House. They managed to put off another debt ceiling crisis, but only by locking themselves into an untenable position on sequestration, and by making a politically perilous pledge to pass a budget that comes into balance within 10 years.
Now the same basic dynamic is complicating GOP efforts not to escalate a debate over funding the government into a full-scale shutdown fight.
Earlier this week, we learned that Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) will demand yet another vote on defunding Obamacare when the Senate amends the House’s government funding bill. And by demand, they mean they’ll obstruct swift passage of the bill if they don’t get their vote.
“I intend to object to consideration of any continuing resolution that does not include a vote to delay funding of Obamacare,” Cruz said in a press release Wednesday.
Enter Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), whose position on immigration reform is forcing him to lurch right on pretty much every other issue. He says he’ll only vote for the continuing resolution if Cruz’s amendment passes.
All the pieces are in place now for the right to get exercised and turn passage of the Cruz amendment — or at least a vote on it — into a litmus test for GOP support for the continuing resolution.
A top Democratic aide tells me leaders haven’t determined who will get votes on which CR amendments. But from where I sit they have nothing to gain by helping to defuse what ultimately amounts to an internal political problem for the GOP. So assuming Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) moves to end the debate quickly, it’ll be up to Republicans to decide whether to huddle around Cruz, Lee, Rubio and the right, or the dying embers of pragmatism in the party.
Faced with this choice, the party’s Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who’s in cycle this year, leapt into line.
A year ago, fighting Obamacare in the appropriations process was more or less the consensus position in the GOP. That was all supposed to change after Obama’s re-election. But instead the right’s difficulty grappling with the permanence of the health care law is testing party leadership and turning Mitch McConnell into the parliamentary equivalent of an elder Michael Corleone.
Now McConnell won’t necessarliy line up the whole conference for a filibuster if Reid doesn’t give him a vote. He could free up moderate members to agree to end debate and pretend he did everything in his power to force the issue. In many ways, that’s his least bad move. But playing pretend will create political problems for him as well.
And those problems are transferable. If somehow the right blows up the consensus among GOP leaders that Republicans should avoid a government shutdown at all costs over defunding Obamacare, it will create a similar dilemma for John Boehner if and when the Senate returns the bill to the House.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.