When the followers lead, and the leaders follow

WHEN THE FOLLOWERS LEAD, AND THE LEADERS FOLLOW…. Yesterday, House Republican leaders started to finally sketch out their budget plan. It wasn’t pretty — after fighting tooth and nail for a tax-cut package that disproportionately benefited the wealthy, the GOP proposed drastic cuts to law enforcement, transportation, aid to families, clean-energy programs, medical research, environmental protections, and job training.

Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, boasted to his Republican colleagues that they would be “voting on the largest set of spending cuts in the history of our nation.”

The Republican rank-and-file, however, insisted the plan wasn’t good enough. The cuts were drastic, they said, but should be more drastic. The reductions will hurt, but they should hurt more.

Today, the leaders once again bowed to the wishes of the followers.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) announced Thursday that he intends to reduce government spending by $100 billion for the remainder of the fiscal year, bowing to pressure from conservative Republicans who had called for the sweeping cuts.

The move scraps an original plan by House Republicans to cut $74 billion in spending. Rogers had released some of the details of that proposal on Wednesday.

“Our intent is to make deep but manageable cuts in nearly every area of government, leaving no stone unturned and allowing no agency or program to be held sacred,” Rogers said Thursday in announcing the $100 billion in cuts. “I have instructed my committee to include these deeper cuts, and we are continuing to work to complete this critical legislation.”

National Journal called it “another victory for tea-party rebels in Congress,” which seems more than fair under the circumstances.

As a practical matter, there are all kinds of steps yet to be taken on the budget fight, and the likelihood of the Senate and the White House approving these $100 billion in cuts is roughly zero.

But given this week’s events, I’m curious: who’s in charge in the House? The Republican leadership thought it could pass the Patriot Act, but GOP leaders stumbled unexpectedly. They thought they could pass a trade bill, and had to pull it when the rank-and-file balked. They thought they could pass the U.N. bill yesterday, and stumbled once again.

And they thought they had a budget blueprint worth following, until rank-and-file Republicans explained to them the plan wasn’t right-wing enough.

If the House Republican leadership isn’t leading, who is?