The Freedom Caucus Conundrum

Is Jennifer Rubin correct that Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan will “clip the wings of the Freedom Caucus”? In some ways, it appears unavoidable.

Trump wants to immediately do away with the Defense sequester, which the American Enterprise Institute estimates will allow him to spend about $300 billion extra over the next four years. The Wall Street Journal thinks that Trump’s proposed tax cuts will result in “$6 trillion in lost revenue over the next decade.” The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget looked at Trump’s proposals in the Spring and came up with this handy chart:

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Now, you might wonder how you can increase the debt by 12 trillion in ten years without raising the borrowing limit of the U.S. government. Sure, you can sprinkle some magic fairy dust around that will assume economic growth will exceed 10% annually, but that seems rather extreme even for committed supply-siders. Will the Freedom Caucus laugh in Trump’s face, as Paul Ryan did in September, when asked to pass his $550 billion unpaid-for infrastructure bill?

You might think that these folks will simply adjust to their new situation and go along to get along. And many of them will do just that. But they won’t be able to avoid breaking pledges or casting votes to raise the debt ceiling every five minutes.

And, that, in a sense, is having their wings clipped.

Now, when it comes time to vote on huge budget busting bills, it may be that the Democrats will be there ready to lend a hand. But they’ll have conditions, and those conditions will grow more demanding to the exact degree that the Freedom Caucus refuses to supply the votes themselves. In other words, the more intransigent they are on blowing up the debt and deficit, the more power the Democrats get to shape legislation.

Will they learn their lesson from this?

If they do, it will be something new because they continually forced Boehner into the arms of Pelosi over the last six years until it frustrated them so badly that they essentially forced Boehner’s resignation.

It’s a no win situation for the Freedom Caucus because Trump will go around them if he needs to. But they could still cannibalize their own leadership. At least, for now, they seem content with Paul Ryan as their speaker, but there could come a day that Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon (an avowed enemy of Ryan) asks them to defenestrate him. Or they could decide to do it wholly on their own as a way to push back against the White House’s big spending and reliance on Democrats.

There isn’t really a coherent strategy for them going forward, though. They can demand a total root-and-branch repeal of Obamacare but that’s probably not going to be possible on the terms they desire. But mostly, they’ll find themselves being whipped to vote for things that aren’t even remotely paid for, which will require them to up the debt ceiling repeatedly.

And if they refuse, the Democrats can hold the administration hostage in a fair bit of turnabout.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.