The House Republicans’ ‘group hug’

THE HOUSE REPUBLICANS’ ‘GROUP HUG’…. After an unexpectedly difficult weak for the House Republican leadership, the caucus organized an emergency meeting last night to come to an intra-party agreement over proposed spending cuts. That an emergency meeting was even necessary underscores the rift between the GOP leadership and the rank-and-file.

It’s tempting to describe the discussion as a “negotiation,” but that’s not quite right. It was more of a capitulation.

House Republicans emerged from an emergency meeting about the budget Thursday night sounding unified around a newfangled stop-gap spending measure that would achieve cuts of $100 billion.

Freshmen, once again, were the driving force that sent the GOP leadership to head back to the drawing board for deeper slashes to spending just a month into their majority.

The newly elected lawmakers wanted what GOP leadership assured: $100 billion in cuts, now. Not prorated over the remainder of the fiscal year.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) characterized the meeting as a “group hug,” but by all appearances, it wasn’t the leadership that was doing the squeezing. The House Republican caucus’ right-wing rank-and-file effectively told House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) how it was going to be, and the ostensible leaders effectively told their members, “If we give you everything you want, will you stop being mean to us?”

As it turns out, there are still some GOP caucus members who aren’t satisfied. They’re getting the $100 billion in cuts — an arbitrary number targeted before the election — but the plan includes a modest reduction in Pentagon spending, and some Republicans don’t consider that acceptable. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said there might still be some money in the budget that works its way into the reformed health care system, and he wants that cut, too.

But on the whole, it appears that the rank-and-file presented their leaders with a list of demands, and as of last night, Boehner & Co. have agreed to all of them.

Looking ahead, there are a few related angles to keep an eye on.

First, I’m not at all sure the White House or Senate Republicans should be negotiating with Boehner and his leadership team going forward. If the Speaker and other GOP leaders aren’t calling the shots, and can’t deliver votes for their plans from their own caucus, why should Dems work with them to reach compromises?

Second, Boehner had a credible plan going into this Congress — don’t overreach the way Gingrich did. That plan has now been scrapped because Boehner’s caucus won’t let him pursue it, positioning him as one of the weakest House Speakers in a generation.

Third, and more substantively, these $100 billion in cuts would be genuinely brutal for many struggling Americans, and would deliberately put a lot of people out of work. If asked to defend these cuts as part of a public debate, Republicans are likely to be surprised at how much Americans hate their preferred slashing.

There’s absolutely no way Senate Democrats and the White House will go along with such a job-killing proposal, setting up the likelihood of a government shutdown.