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Posted at 11:29 AM ET, 02/17/2011

Does an 'open House' weaken the tea party?

By Ezra Klein

Jon Bernstein wonders whether Speaker John Boehner's use of "open rules" -- which has allowed more than 400 amendments to the spending bill and led to a number of high-profile defeats for both Boehner and the House's more conservative bloc -- is part of a quiet effort to maneuver around his tea party faction.

[T]his logic would imply that Boehner's real goal in using an open rule could be twofold: to show hard-liners that they don't have the votes for many of their most aggressive spending cuts, and at the same time to show them how easily the GOP can lose control of the chamber if rogue Members insist on their personal preferences instead of sticking with the party. Surely, if Boehner believes that a shutdown would be very damaging to the GOP in general and to his ability to remain Speaker in particular (and indications are that he does believe those things -- as in my view he should!), then finding some way before the final crisis to defuse some of the intensity of budget-cutters who have a lot less leverage than bravado would be a smart move. If, of course, it works.

Is that an accurate explanation of Boehner's intentions? I don't know, and Bernstein doesn't, either. And on some level, it might not matter: The question is whether it has that effect, not whether Boehner wants it to have that effect. And I'd add one piece to this: The open rules are leading to a lot of ad hoc coalitions between congressional Democrats and more mainstream congressional Republicans. If these two groups get used to working with each other on small things, such as funding for police, that might help them work together on big things, such as avoiding a default or shutdown.

By Ezra Klein  | February 17, 2011; 11:29 AM ET
Categories:  Congress  
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Comments

you're right we don't know. All we do know is that legislation isn't being written in the speaker's office and its leading to a lot more transparency than the last congress and if it leads to more bipartisanship then that's a good thing that the former speaker could have learned from.


As far as the tea party weakening I don't think so. The end of the funding for the F-35 I think in a small way proved their stamp in on this Congress already.

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 17, 2011 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, John Boehner sez our guvmints iz "broke." Is that true?

If so, haven't we been broke since 1957, except for 4 glorious sunshiney years brought to us by The Sun King William Jefferson Clinton?

http://www.mygovspending.com/includes/history-charts2.php

Given our fiscal history, does the concept of being "broke" even apply?

Posted by: andrewlong | February 17, 2011 12:52 PM | Report abuse

"to show them how easily [they] can lose control of the chamber if rogue Members insist on their personal preferences instead of sticking with the party"
.
What part of the last Senate session didn't blatantly show this fact? Why would it be different in the House?

Posted by: rpixley220 | February 17, 2011 12:54 PM | Report abuse

@andrewlong:

We were still 'broke' during the Clinton years. The unified budget nicely hides that fact. If you take out the money taken in by Social Security, we still ran deficits those years too. It was significantly better than the other years, but still 'broke' :)

And Clinton doesn't deserve all the credit. A pig headed GOP majority lead to lots of inaction which helped create the surpluses. Inaction is good when things are relatively stable and calm. When you're trying to energize an economy of this size, it's bad.

Posted by: rpixley220 | February 17, 2011 1:11 PM | Report abuse

As MattY pointed out the other day, "broke" is misleading. Running small deficits that are eclipsed by the growth in the economy is fine. Though I hate comparing the government to a family, because there are so many ways in which it falls apart, a richer family can get a bigger mortgage because their income can support more debt. If we become a richer country at a faster rate than we're incuring new debts, we'll be ok.

That's not to say we shouldn't try to make our programs as efficient as possible and cut fat where we find it, but the government really doesn't have to run a profit for our long-term projections to be ok.

Posted by: MosBen | February 17, 2011 1:34 PM | Report abuse

rpixley220 writes "If you take out the money taken in by Social Security, we still ran deficits those years too."

That's absolutely true. And if you take out the money taken in by the income tax, we REALLY ran a massive deficit. And we could also take out the money taken in by the excise taxes, estate tax, corporate tax, and then, hoo boy were WE in trouble in the late 1990s. Who knew?


"And Clinton doesn't deserve all the credit. A pig headed GOP majority lead to lots of inaction which helped create the surpluses. Inaction is good when things are relatively stable and calm."

I'm no economist, but my impression is that mostly the surplus was created by the tax increases enacted by GHW Bush in 1991 and Clinton in 1993, the artificially low interest rates courtesy of Greenspan, the resulting booming economy, and the internet bubble.

I didn't think spending increases were substantially reduced in the 1990s. If there's evidence to the contrary, I'd like to see it.

Posted by: DavidinCambridge | February 17, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

MosBen: good analogy!

It is amazing how many people who say they want Government to work more like a Business have no idea how actual businesses work.

Posted by: juddrogers | February 17, 2011 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I'm reading Caro's Master of the Senate right now and he argues that after FDRs very successful (in terms of getting Congress to pass stuff) 100 days when he advanced the court packing scheme it pushed the southern conservative Dems together with the Rs in opposition and that then that coalition started working together on a lot of other social legislation. The parties are more polarized now so there's probably less chance for overlap and natural coalitions between even the most liberal Rs and conservative Ds... but it's an interesting historical example of what you propose.

Posted by: tgates573 | February 17, 2011 2:24 PM | Report abuse

@DavidinCambridge:
Your points certainly played a part in the surplus. But as many like to point out, given surplus BOTH parties have high tendencies to spend it rather than apply it to the deficit.

the reason it didn't happen during the Clinton era is the divided gov't; they couldn't agree on what to spend money on so less money was spent.

Posted by: rpixley220 | February 17, 2011 4:25 PM | Report abuse

@rpixley: ahh thanks, I didn't know those budgets included SS. and yes, my Big Dog luv was tongue in cheek. (ew.)
I wish Ezra and everyone else with a platform would call out Boehner on the "broke" rhetoric.

Posted by: andrewlong | February 17, 2011 5:26 PM | Report abuse

rpixley220 writes "If you take out the money taken in by Social Security, we still ran deficits those years too."

That's absolutely true. And if you take out the money taken in by the income tax, we REALLY ran a massive deficit. And we could also take out the money taken in by the excise taxes, estate tax, corporate tax, and then, hoo boy were WE in trouble in the late 1990s. Who knew?


"And Clinton doesn't deserve all the credit. A pig headed GOP majority lead to lots of inaction which helped create the surpluses. Inaction is good when things are relatively stable and calm."

I'm no economist, but my impression is that mostly the surplus was created by the tax increases enacted by GHW Bush in 1991 and Clinton in 1993, the artificially low interest rates courtesy of Greenspan, the resulting booming economy, and the internet bubble.

I didn't think spending increases were substantially reduced in the 1990s. If there's evidence to the contrary, I'd like to see it.

----
It is true, HW Bush and the Democratic Congress agreed to a tax hike (of course the Reps were mad) along with the PAYGO rule that had teeth.

Clinton pushed for the tax hike and agreed with Rep Congress for the 1997 Balanced Budget Act that limited payment of providers of Medicare. However who could forget the Reps trying to shut down the government make a point for spending cuts only to have themselves blamed in the process.

However Clinton reappointed Greenspan who decided to lower the interest rate for too long that fueled the housing bubble.

One thing is certain, it is both parties deciding to work together contributed to this. That has been lacking for the past 30 years between the hardliners of both sides of the parties.

Posted by: beeker25 | February 17, 2011 7:48 PM | Report abuse

With all the talk before and right after the election, where are the all "required" constitutionality statements on all these amendments that are now mandatory for all new bills as layed out in the new House rules?

Posted by: schnauzer21 | February 18, 2011 8:02 AM | Report abuse

Cheney said in 2004, "You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don't matter," he said, according to excerpts. Cheney continued: "We won the midterms (congressional elections). This is our due."

What are some folks in the Republican Party so upset over deficits, if Deficits don't matter?

Posted by: SCVoter | February 18, 2011 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Oddly this discussion of Boehner makes me think of Lenin -- and not just to note that a conservative lazy crybaby is about as far from Lenin as a human being can be (and thank the dialectid for that).

From January 1995 through about yesterday the House Republican caucus was un-American, showing an almost Leninist level of party discipline (OK a perfectly normal level of party discipline but by US standards that seemed virtually Leninist).

Now, however, Berstein (AKA Tortsky*) theorizes that he has adopted the motto "the worse it is, the better it is." This approach certainly explains a lot of Republican behavior, which sure looks like sabotage. However, I would never ascribe to Boehnerian slyness anything that could be explained by incompetence.

* This is not a typo. The logic is that Bernstein is to Bronstein as Trotsky is to Tortsky. OK it is also not funny, but it aint no typo.

Posted by: rjw88 | February 18, 2011 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Oops that was a typo. I meant Bronstein is to Bernstein as Trotsky is to Tortsky.

I shouldn't but will add that a "bernstein" is also molecular biology jargon for a nonsense mutation (OK it is always translated to "opal" but it was named by a Mr.** Bernstein in honor of his grandmother).

** no not Dr Berstain PhD -- he was given a bequest which paid him a huge stipend so long as he was a student, so he decided to be a student forever. This is the inspiration for Roger Zelazney's "Doorways in the Sand." http://amzn.to/eDAFCA

Posted by: rjw88 | February 18, 2011 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I still can't get over how the MSM (and now even thoughtful writers like you Klein) have bought hook, line and sinker, the rebranding of the Republican conservative base as Tea Party, as if they were outsiders!

These are not a third party of grass root citizens fed up with the 2 parties.

THEY ARE ALL THE 28% WHO LOVED BUSH AT THE END OF HIS 8 YEARS, AFTER ALL THE TRAGEDIES AND FINANCIAL FAILURES.

The pity is that elected Republicans and leadership go along with this astro-turf for what it's worth. Their message is not save America, not to offer one idea, but to KILL Obama and any use of the federal government to improve education, reduce health care costs, and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Obama won by 53% of the vote, one of the biggest margins in recent memory and he ran clearly, consistently on these 3 things. But, like with Clinton, the filthy rich extremist Conservative money-men want to kill his presidency at all costs. And Sen Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said this is the Republican goal. Period.

Posted by: walden1 | February 18, 2011 1:33 PM | Report abuse

it's democratic, much more than what the dems gave us when they were in charge...

Posted by: DwightCollins | February 18, 2011 3:12 PM | Report abuse

We'll start paying attention to the teabaggers after they put down their misspelled n-word signs. Deal?

Posted by: broadwayjoe | February 18, 2011 7:49 PM | Report abuse

Pelosi ruled with an iron fist and was the the most partisan Speaker of all time. Boehner may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer - but he still knows how to cut much better than Pelosi. All she knew was how to spend.

Boehner has a much more diverse party than ever before in recent memory. He cannot afford to alienate the Tea Party people and the Libertarians.

Posted by: alance | February 18, 2011 10:48 PM | Report abuse

It's a bit of both. If the Tea Party people are simply an automatic vote for the Republicans, then they will have ceded all power to the Republican Party. At the same time, Republicans and the Tea Party won't accomplish much without working together.

Boehner may be playing something of a gambit, giving the Tea Parties some room to buck the Republicans early on, and then hoping they realize the need to work together and compromise later. However, it may also be the case that Boehner is forging a new way for Congress to run, and it's not entirely distasteful. Yes, the House coming to agreement with the Senate and White House could pose problems, but the House is functioning as a much more dynamic body than it has in years. Pelosi prevented anyone from offering amendments unless she and the Democratic leadership agreed, and the response was gridlock from the Republicans. The Senate, because of the 60-vote threshold, has been even worse. Give individuals the freedom to offer amendments that actually have a chance at reaching a vote, and suddenly provisions can be added to and stripped from bills more easily, and minorities are less likely to try to shut everything down for lack of being heard.

Of course, the whole thing could backfire, and Boehner could lose control, too. New attempts always carry risks, but the House is showing a lot more activity legislatively and as a deliberative body than it has in some time, so it's not all bad. As long as Republican leaders can remain philosophical about losses and claim victory for democracy and for government even in the face of defeat on specific policy points, Boehner can still come out ahead.

Posted by: blert | February 19, 2011 12:30 AM | Report abuse

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