The GOP’s Budget Problem

Brian Beutler has a smart item up about how GOP obsession with Obamacare hurts them in the upcoming government funding showdown. I agree with the general point.

However, I think he puts too much emphasis on the importance of what Republicans pass (or don’t pass) out of the House. Here’s Beutler:

If 218 Republicans could ignore their White Whale for just a moment and pass the House bill, Senate Democrats would kill the provision to defund the health care law, but probably be stuck with Republican spending levels. The GOP would both avoid a government shutdown and extract a major concession from Democrats for free.

I asked him about that on twitter, and he responded that the Senate “wouldn’t want the fight and would lack the ability to pass a “clean” continuing resolution,” while the House “GOP would go home, claim to have passed a “clean” CR that Senate Dems were for some reason sitting on.”

If he’s right that Senate Democrats (and Barack Obama) aren’t willing to fight over it, then he may have a point — and he’s a lot closer to hearing what mood they’re in than I am.

But if the Democrats did want to fight (and at least outside of the Senate that seems to be the case), then I really don’t think the GOP gambit of passing it and going home really changes things a lot from the train-crash alternative of not being able to pass anything out of the House. The Democrats would simply say that they’re ready to cut a deal, and the Republicans are AWOL with the government about to shut down. And outside of the Fox News bubble, no one is going to buy the idea that it’s the Democrats who refuse to act in the Senate if they’re trying but they’re being stopped by a Senate filibuster.

And that’s if Senate Republicans can hold together. There’s every possibility that the liberal-moderate coalition that’s emerged on several issues would emerge again, complete if necessary with yet another “Gang,” and produce a CR that could get through the Senate, at which point the House would either have to go try to negotiate or just, as they’ve done in the past, accept the Senate version.

On the margins, I think it’s quite reasonable to say that the conservative Obamacare obsession hurts them; instead of pushing for things that Democrats might be willing to accept, they’re wasting their time on something that isn’t going to happen. Overall, however, I’ll stick with what I’ve been saying: the eventual deal has to be acceptable to both Barack Obama (and mainstream Democrats) and to John Boehner (and mainstream conservatives), so the real action is with them, and not with the fringe conservatives who are going to be “no” votes at the end of the day on whatever happens.

In other words: the inability of Republicans to pass the initial House position on the CR probably, in the end, just shouldn’t be all that important.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.