In football, when you’re down by 7 late in the fourth quarter, all you can do is to play your ass off, and hope to force a turnover to get the ball back. The same thing is true when you’re in the minority in politics. And where the GOP tax bill is concerned, the rain is pouring down, and the ball is getting wet.
One of the biggest stories in the news yesterday got almost no coverage, because Trump-Russia kept going off like a neutron bomb. To catch you up, here’s what happened.Yesterday, Paul Ryan brought a motion to the floor to agree to “go to conference” on the tax bill. This is not a bill for a law, it’s strictly a procedural vote, allowing for the formation of House group to go into a conference with a group of Senators to hammer out the differences in the GOP House and Senate dueling tax bills, to blend them into one seamless bill to vote on to pass for the President to sing. Legislatively, this should be like screwing the cap back on the bottle when you’re finished drinking, a no brainer. And instead, the GOP almost dropped the open bottle.
The vote almost failed. If it had, the tax bill issue would have been dead on the spot. It happened because the House Freedom caucus made a perfectly timed power play. The Freedom caucus are governmental nihilists, they want to shrink the government, and strangle government spending. They were furious with the September continuing resolution for not requiring at least partial spending cuts to offset the raise in the debt ceiling, and they;re damned if they’ll let that happen again this week, so they held the tax bill hostage. It got so bad that Paul Ryan, the Speaker, had to go to the floor to twist arms. This should never happen, that is what Ryan has Steve Scalise, the Majority Whip for, to do the arm twisting. If the tax bill was more like previous tax bills, that is to say bipartisan, Ryan wouldn’t have had this problem, Democratic votes would have made the Freedom caucus irrelevant. But Ryan had to cut a deal.
This is going to be a red hot poker up the GOP’s ass, on both taxes and the continuing resolution to fund the government. First, for the continuing resolution. It was reported that the GOP strategy was to get two short, clean funding bills through congress, one two week bill this week that would keep the government open until December 24th, and then another two week bill to get them into January. Normally, Democrats are lie Charlie Brown, they naively let Lucy the Republican hold the football with a promise not to pull it back, and then go “AUUUUUGGGHHHH!” when she yanks the ball away and they fall on their backs. Not this time. The Democrats already had a couple of arrows in their quiver to shoot the GOP with when it came to raising the debt ceiling, DACA, and the ACA funding. Now, they can add in things that expand the deficit, like looking loike heroes for forcing the GOP to fund CHIP, the children’s healthcare program.This will enrage the Freedom caucus, which wants to shrink the government financial footprint, not enlarge it. The bill will pass the House, but only because the Democrats provided enough votes to override the Freedom caucus protest, which will only enrage them further.
Here’s where it bleeds into taxes. Part of that procedural vote yesterday was naming the negotiators to go to conference. If the Freedom caucus pulled that stunt, and won, I have a hard time believing that a condition for their votes wasn’t representation on the committee. And this is going to be a huge problem for the GOP. The Freedom caucus is going to want to trim everything they can that costs money, and those are exactly the things that the GOP needs in the bill to placate the masses. The Freedom caucus committee members are going to use this bill as a way to negate some of the damage they were forced to swallow in the continuing resolution fight, claiming that the increase from it must bee offset. If they’re not satisfied with the final results, they’ll try to sink the bill in committee. But, let’s just say it passes, over their objections.
Now what happens? If the bill comes out of conference, the reconciliation rules are clear. The vote will be a straight up and down vote, no filibuster, but it must be a clean vote, there can be no changes or amendments to the bill that comes out of committee. If the Freedom caucus members come back from committee and tell their members what a piece of shit this bill is, losing those 35 or so votes will kill the bill, no Democrat is going to vote for it. And Ryan can’t do anything to buy them off, there can be no revisions to the bill. And if the Freedom caucus manages to negotiate in some “fuck the poor” provisions in committee, that will lose moderate Republicans like the Tuesday group, but still not pick up any Democrats to offset the damage. Either way, Ryan and the GOP are boned.
This is why I wrote a few days ago that the Senate ramming their bill through in the dead of the night was not the final chapter. The House can’t pasa a bill that the Senate will even look at, much less consider, both the House healthcare bill and the tax bill are proof of that. Trying to get two factions that opposite to meet in the middle is going to be a herculean task, especially since the GOP strategy for the last 8 years has been obstruction, not cooperation, and now they’re going to obstruct each other out of habit. And the Democrats can fuel that fire by extracting maximum concessions in the government shutdown fight, concessions that the Republicans will have to swallow to avoid a shutdown that they’ll own, and can’t afford going into the midterms. And the GOP is only helping the Democrats to sink this with their self imposed Christmas deadline, nothing breeds errors and miscalculations like haste. Take my word for it, this ain’t over. Not by a long shot.