Distracting the base with shiny amendments

DISTRACTING THE BASE WITH SHINY AMENDMENTS…. Congressional Republicans have invested a fair amount of energy this week pushing a constitutional amendment to mandate balanced budgets. It’s a spectacularly bad idea, but far-right lawmakers find it easier to talk about budget gimmicks than actually work on real budgeting.

Today, yet another constitutional amendment was unveiled, this time by Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and the target is birthright citizenship. Under their proposal, the Constitution would declare “a person born in the United States to illegal aliens does not automatically gain citizenship unless at least one parent is a legal citizen, legal immigrant, active member of the Armed Forces or a naturalized legal citizen.”*

The amendment can’t pass, and it’s still more evidence that Republicans don’t even want to talk about job creation, but the party’s far-right base is supposed to be impressed by GOP officials taking their concerns seriously.

The question, though, is whether the Republicans’ Tea Party base is easily distracted by shiny objects. Jonathan Bernstein yesterday characterized this as “the constitutional amendment con.”

One of the big themes, it seems to me, of the current Congress is whether Speaker John Boehner and incumbent Republicans in general can keep conservative activists happy with feel-good symbolic votes, given that Republicans can’t actually do most of the things that those activists say they want. […]

The best form of purely symbolic vote is usually the constitutional amendment. After all, it’s almost always impossible to pass one of those, so Republicans don’t have to worry about the negative consequences if it goes through. In addition, the level of abstraction is high, so Republicans don’t have to worry about getting called out for supporting unpopular specifics. […]

The real question, however, is whether activists — and whether those voices in the partisan conservative media who serve as opinion leaders for those activists — are going to settle for symbolism. If so, Boehner’s a smart guy, and he can roll these out forever: there’s still the (purely fraudulent) line-item veto, and Tea Partyer activists and other populists are bound to love congressional term limits.

And really, that’s just the start. Jonathan didn’t mention the birthright citizenship measure, which only reinforces the fact that Republicans aren’t afraid to get creative when rolling out new constitutional amendments they don’t expect to be approved.

How long the base will actually put up with this is unclear, but I’d bet money their frustration will come well before a credible Republican plan to create jobs.

* Update: Reader S.S. emails to note that the Vitter/Paul measure may not, in fact, be a constitutional amendment, but rather, legislation seeking to define how the 14th Amendment should be interpreted. [Update on the update: Vitter and Paul are pursuing this through a joint resolution amending the Constitution.]

Either way, the larger point about amendments and the GOP base stands.