Republicans seem to doggedly follow their ideology no matter how many times it is proven to be wrong or rejected by voters. Overall, conservative policies haven’t done well with the electorate since 2016. Now that we have a clearer view of what Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the far-right members of the House want to do, it appears to be more of the same, except further to the right.
The slim GOP House majority is both good news and bad news.
The red wave Republicans were expecting in last November’s election fizzled out, giving House Republicans only 222 seats. That’s the good news. McCarthy needed 218 votes to become speaker – the same number needed to pass legislation in that chamber. Consequently, it took only a hand full of his most extreme colleagues to demand concessions and block his quest to be speaker until the 15th vote. McCarthy readily cut deals with them in order to secure their support. Some are written in the House rules that were adopted on January 9, others are apparently in a three-page side agreement. Of course, the slim majority means that the same small number of ultra-conservative zealots can totally control the Speaker for the next two years. And that’s the bad news.
McCarthy’s side agreements are a radical hidden agenda.
Reportedly, McCarthy’s secret agreement promises to cap spending at 2022 levels and block a debt limit increase unless Democrats agree to major cuts in future spending, perhaps even to Social Security and Medicare. The government’s borrowing (debt) limit will be reached this month but the Treasury Department can use extraordinary measures to delay a showdown on increasing it until late summer. What is likely to occur then, according to Goldman Sachs, will be the “scariest debt ceiling battle” since the 2011 fiasco that cost America its perfect AAA credit score.
Another McCarthy capitulation gives ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus members three of the nine Republican seats on the powerful, 13-member House Rules Committee. Typically, the speaker retains control the majority’s seats by filling them with close allies. This means McCarthy has surrendered a significant part of his leadership power with this concession. Why? Well, the Rules Committee decides what bills and amendments are sent to the lower chamber for a vote and – equally important – which ones won’t be considered. The Freedom Caucus members could influence this committee to block a debt limit bill from even coming to the House floor for a vote. What could go wrong?
The Republican House rules further empower the extremists.
If McCarthy fails to meet his obligations under whatever agreements he made, the rules allow a single representative to call for a vote to remove him as speaker, just like former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) did to threaten Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in 2015.
The rules emasculate the House Ethics Committee and specify that a federal income tax rate increase can only be passed with a three-fifths vote of the House members.
The previous rules on raising the debt limit – which simplified the process – have been eliminated, thereby requiring a politically fraught stand-alone vote to increase the nation’s borrowing authority.
The first Republican bills passed show their intent.
Republicans have been putting funding shackles on the IRS for more than a decade, much to the joy of their wealthy, tax cheating donors. Their first bill passed on Monday continues this abuse by eliminating most of the almost $80 billion that the IRS is to receive under Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that this legislation would decrease tax revenues and result in a net $114 billion increase in deficits over the next decade.
Another quickly passed GOP bill sets up a Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government with broad powers to delve into the operations of the intelligence agencies, the DOJ, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, including ongoing investigations. The objective is obvious, this subcommittee, chaired by far-right Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), will attempt to prevent the DOJ from indicting Trump or any other Republicans who supported his attempts to overthrow the 2020 election, which could include some members of this committee.
What does this mean for the next two years?
No question, all eyes will be on raising the debt limit this summer. Until that is done, nothing else matters. Of course, a default on the U.S. debt would be catastrophic, not only for the United States, but for the entire world. Even coming close to a default could send the stock and bond markets into freefall and further damage the U.S. credit rating.
The battle to elect McCarthy as speaker last week severely weakened both the office and the man. So, he will be virtually powerless to stop his radical colleagues from attempting significant Social Security and Medicare cuts or forcing a fiscal crisis, even if it hurts the GOP in 2024.
But wait, perhaps they will listen to some of their biggest donors. Yesterday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned Congress: Businesses are “fed up” with gridlock. The message from business leaders was clear, according to U.S. Chamber CEO Suzanne Clark. Congress should “not default on our debt” and should “not play chicken with the true faith and credit of the United States.”
Still, the far-right ideological binge continues, and Republican obstruction is always a work-in-progress, so I’ll stop here for now. But watch this space.