'DHS may have been the easy one': Much more legislative brinksmanship, chaos ahead as critical funding deadlines loom for GOP Congress...
By Brad Friedman on 3/9/2015, 2:43pm PT  

In his "Morning Plum" round-up today at Washington Post, Greg Sargent's collection of items on legislative priorities in the new Congress reads more like a warning than anything else. Buckle up. The serious dysfunction in the Republican House and Senate is only going to get very bad before it gets better.

His opening item details the improbability of the Voting Rights Act, broken in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court, being fixed by the Republican majority in both houses any time soon. Indeed, as The Nation's Ari Berman tweets today, even on the heels of the weekend's 50th anniversary commemoration of the Bloody Sunday march for voting rights in Selma, AL, just 10 House Republicans currently support the Republican-authored bill to restore the VRA.

"There's no incentive for House Republicans to act" on it, observes Sargent. That's true, in so much as, ya know, simply doing the right thing would otherwise provide incentive to at least some lawmakers.

Similarly, Sargent notes, it seems unlikely that Republicans will be able to make much progress on immigration reform, a long-promised, so-called GOP version of health care reform, or even on their own legislative priorities, such as tax reform or trade deals, given the necessity of having to deal with Democrats to get almost anything passed in the Senate and a Democratic President who is disinclined to gut programs that "Tea Party" Republicans tend to poison their own legislation with.

But, following last week's predictable GOP brinksmanship on funding for the Dept. of Homeland Security, Sargent cites Ashley Parker at the New York Times and her round up of the long list of must-pass spending bills that are coming due soon with hard deadlines and a likelihood --- some might say certainty, at this point --- that much more governing-by-brinksmanship lies in our near future. All of that, it seems, is all but certain to take up any time that might have been used to pass bills meant to, ya know, actually help the American people...

As Parker explains, the DHS vote "may have been the easy one":

In April, physicians who treat Medicare patients face a drastic cut in pay. In May, the Highway Trust Fund runs dry. In June, the charter for the federal Export-Import Bank ceases to exist. Then in October, across-the-board spending cuts return, the government runs out of money - and the Treasury bumps up against its borrowing limit.

All will require congressional action, and while many of these measures used to be pushed through in an almost unthinking bipartisan ritual, there is no such thing as simple in Congress anymore.

"We really don't have 218 votes to determine a bathroom break over here on our side," said Representative Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican. "So how are we going to get 218 votes on transportation, or trade, or whatever the issue? We might as well face the political reality of our circumstances and then act accordingly."

"Get ready for more House GOP chaos," warns Sargent. "If Congressional leaders had hoped to achieve something on tax reform and trade, you have to wonder whether there will even be time for anything other than sustained theatrics, division, and drama around the more fundamental things that have to get done."

But, he's being optimistic.

Parker underscores that point with this:

Moderate Republicans said they hoped their more conservative colleagues would internalize the lessons of the Homeland Security fight and be willing to make compromises.

"We have to straighten that out," said Representative Peter T. King of New York. "Otherwise, it's going to be a rough two years."

But Mr. King represents a quieter faction within the Republican majority. Many more hard-line members said they planned to double down on their strategy of opposing their leadership when they did not think the Republican proposal was sufficiently conservative.

Yes, "it's going to be a rough two years." Particularly in a world where Peter King is now considered part of the "Moderate" wing of the Republican Party.

The only hope for the short term --- as we saw when a clean DHS funding bill was ultimately passed and signed by the President last week, in which hostage-taking Republicans received absolutely nothing in exchange for their gun-to-the-head demand that Obama reverse his Executive Actions on immigration reform --- are the erstwhile grownups in the Democratic caucus.

"In recent years," writes Parker, "Democrats were critical in helping Mr. Boehner on crucial legislation - averting a fiscal showdown, passing the Violence Against Women Act and providing relief for Hurricane Sandy victims - when he did not have enough Republican votes. A similar situation is likely to occur this year, much to the frustration of conservative lawmakers."

So, buckle up for that, for nothing to otherwise be accomplished by this Congress beyond more chaos and, along with it, a whole lot more cry-baby politics from the GOP.

While I'd be delighted to be wrong, to be missing something here, I see absolutely no alternative at this time. No hint that anything will somehow get better before it continues to get still worse. Barring some unknown unknown (to paraphrase Don Rumsfeld), the Politics of Stupid is what's on tap for this country between here and the new Congress in January of 2017. So, yeah, buckle up. Or, as the Republicans may prefer, just tune out all together. They'd very much appreciate that.

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