Republicans are unnervingly adept at convincing large swaths of the public that up is down, or that night is, in fact, day. They are attempting this right now, on a grand scale. "Why won't President Obama and Democrats just negotiate with us?" they bewail. They're hoping that the public (and the media which is supposed to inform the public) has absolutely no memory of what has taken place all year long, as they have blocked -- over and over again -- exactly the budget negotiations they are now screaming for.
So, as a public service, I'd like to trace the history of the Republican Party when it comes to budget negotiations. In a nutshell, if you don't have time to read all the clips below, the Republican Party has been howling for years that Congress should follow the "regular order" when it comes to passing budgets. This regular order is: House passes budget. Senate passes budget. Conference committee hashes out compromise budget. House and Senate pass compromise budget. President signs budget.
That's what they've been demanding. For years. Remember their "clock" showing how long it had been since the Senate passed a budget? This year, however, both the House and the Senate did actually pass budget bills. The Republicans immediately pivoted to demanding that any conference committee would be bound by the chains of Republican demands -- before they even met. In the House, this took the form of demanding certain subjects be put "off the table" so the conference committee couldn't even consider things like tax increases. In the Senate, every time Harry Reid tried to name conference committee members, it was blocked. Alex Seitz-Wald at the National Journal just put all 19 times Senate Republicans did so into a handy list (which is the following timeline's source for Senate data).
For both the general public's education and for the mainstream media (who apparently have problems remembering anything past last Tuesday), here is the history of the budget negotiations, and the shifting Republican position on even holding discussions with the other side. They've come full circle in one year -- going from demanding "regular order," to blocking regular order with every tactic they can bring to bear, and then returning at the last minute to demanding regular order again (as long as they can dictate the terms of the negotiation). Because of the sheer volume of stunning hypocrisy from Republicans on the issue, this timeline will be presented in two parts. Today we'll cover January through May, and then we'll bring the timeline up to the present tomorrow.
[Note: these articles were retrieved from a site with a paywall, apologies for not providing links.]
In early January, Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly considers forcing changes in filibuster rules to do away with the possibility of filibustering a motion to move a bill to conference committee and name the members. He decides not to push the issue. If he had insisted on it, much of the following would never have happened.
February 13 -- Christian Science Monitor, "Obama urges a budget without brinkmanship. But can Congress stop the insanity?"
[Rep. Tom Price (R) of Georgia urges a return to the regular order of Congress:]
But if Washington could get back to moving a budget (which both chambers have agreed to do this year), the fiscal fighting could be packed back into a more orderly and, hopefully, productive process.
"Conversations are fine," said Congressman Price, referring to the primacy of negotiations handled by the White House and congressional leadership in recent fiscal deals, "but nowhere in the rules of the House is the word 'conversation' used, I don't believe. There are processes that are in place that allow us to solve the challenges that we have in a deliberative way, in an open way, in a transparent way, and it is the processes of governing and legislating through the House and the Senate."
February 17 -- Washington Post, "Committee chairs seek to reassert power in Congress"
The overarching demand is for "regular order," which is congressional speak for how things are supposed to work -- at least how things used to work. Their hopes are straight out of the old Schoolhouse Rock "I'm Just a Bill" anthem, where bills start in subcommittees and move to full committees and competing versions are passed by each chamber, leading to a conference committee to iron out the differences. A final version gets approved and sent to the president for his signature.
That process, already withering away over the past decade, broke down completely in the 112th Congress. Senior aides could not point to a single significant bill introduced in the past two years that moved along those old procedural tracks.
March 7 -- Washington Post, "Committee chairs hold the keys to budget deal"
After two years of anxious, high-wire negotiations over the federal budget, an exhausted Washington is about to hand the mess back over to the experts: the chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees.
In the next few weeks, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) will roll out competing proposals for taming the national debt. If lightning strikes, both sides hold out hope that a Ryan-Murray conference committee could become the forum for litigating the partisan dispute over taxes and spending.
Especially if President Obama makes headway in his new outreach campaign to Republicans, a Ryan-Murray summit could produce the big deal that would let Congress avoid another nasty fight over the federal debt limit, which is once again looming in August.
"This whole thing will come to a crescendo this summer, and we're going to have to talk to each other to get an agreement about how to delay a debt crisis," Ryan said Wednesday, adding that the need to raise the debt limit should give both parties incentive to cut a deal.
March 13 -- Washington Post, "Ryan sets stage for a budget deal"
[As committee chairs Paul Ryan and Patty Murray roll out their budget plans, President Obama holds a strategy meeting at the White House with Senate Democrats, in which he calls for a conference committee:]
While the White House issued a statement criticizing Ryan's blueprint as "the wrong course for America," Obama told Senate Democrats to expect a months-long debate over fiscal issues that will begin in earnest only after each chamber has approved its own partisan vision for improving the economy and shrinking the national debt.
"The best course now is to let the budgets go, get them into [a] conference [committee] and try to reconcile the two," Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said the president advised senators during the closed-door meeting.
March 23 -- Senate passes first budget in four years. After the House passes its budget, regular order dictates that both chambers name members of a conference committee to resolve the difference.
April 11 -- Christian Science Monitor, "GOP's Rep. Dave Camp envisions inclusive path to a fiscal 'bargain' "
On Wednesday, Representative Ryan and Senator Murray issued a joint statement calling for a conference committee on the House and Senate budget resolutions.
Considering that Ryan's budget balanced in 10 years and featured no tax increases while Murray's included nearly $1 trillion in new taxes and never balanced, many figured the budget process had run its political and ultimately irreconcilable course. Instead, Ryan and Murray appear to be trying to use the regular order to forge a compromise.
April 17 -- Washington Post, "Ryan: No plans for budget-deal compromise"
[It takes Ryan less than a week to completely reverse his position on holding a conference committee.]
House Republicans have no plans to appoint a conference committee to hammer out a budget deal with Senate Democrats, Rep. Paul Ryan said Tuesday, arguing that the move is pointless unless private talks bring the two sides closer to agreement.
"What we want to do is have constructive dialogues to find out where the common ground is and then go to conference when we have a realistic chance of actually coming out with an agreement," said Ryan (R-Wis.), who chairs the House Budget Committee.
Noting that he met last week with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), his counterpart in the Senate, Ryan said: "We're going to keep talking and we're going to keep meeting, and that's our plan."
Democrats quickly accused Ryan of hypocrisy, noting that he and other Republicans have for months criticized President Obama for negotiating "backroom deals" with congressional leaders over tax and spending policies. Republicans passed their own spending plan in March and then badgered Senate Democrats to adopt their first budget blueprint since 2009 so Congress could return to the more transparent legislative process to reconcile their fiscal differences, a process known as "regular order."
"We have had the Republicans yelling, screaming, sometimes violently, to have regular order," Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters. "Does [Ryan] want regular order? Obviously not."
This is the new House Republican position: there has to be a deal before we begin talking. That way, we can dictate what the conference committee can actually talk about before it even meets.
April 23 -- Harry Reid requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Toomey blocks this request.
April 24 -- Washington Times, "Meeting on budget will have to wait; inaction by GOP riles Democrats"
After several years of complaining that Congress didn't have a budget, Republicans are now the ones holding up the 2014 budget process.
Both the GOP-led House and Democrat-controlled Senate have passed plans, but House Speaker John A. Boehner seems in no hurry to create the official conference committee that would hammer out differences.
Democrats, tired of taking fire for their budget record, are on the offensive, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid trying to jump-start final budget negotiations Tuesday. He took to the Senate floor and made a motion to formally set up the Senate budget negotiating team, but the GOP blocked it.
"Republicans are afraid to even be seen considering a compromise with Democrats," Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said.
But top Republicans in both chambers said they wanted to hold informal talks first to see what kind of final budget deal is possible.
"Typically when you go to conference, you have a sense that there's an agreement possible," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said. "Certainly, there ought to be discussions between Senate and House budget leaders, but to go to conference right now when we have no sense of whether there's any chance of getting an outcome strikes us as not making much sense."
May 5 -- New York Times, "The House Prefers Chaos to Order"
''Regular order!'' That has been the demand of House Republicans for three years, insisting on a return to the distant days when Congress actually passed budget resolutions and spending bills, instead of paying for the government through shortsighted stopgap measures.
''Senate Democrats have done nothing,'' Speaker John Boehner said on ''Meet the Press'' on March 3, referring to the Senate's failure to pass a budget since 2009. ''It's time for them to vote. It's time for us to get back to regular order here in Congress.'' The two chambers could try to resolve their differences in a conference committee, he said, ''and maybe come to some agreement.''
But a funny thing happened a few days after those comments were made: the Senate agreed to that demand and actually passed a budget. Suddenly all those Republican cries for regular order stopped. Suddenly the House has no interest in a conference with the Senate. Instead, Congress is preparing for yet another budget crisis.
A few days ago, when Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, tried to appoint members of a conference committee, Republicans refused to allow it, saying it would cause ''complications for the House.'' As Senator Jeff Sessions, the leading Republican on the Budget Committee, explained it, ''We haven't been able to have any understanding on how this conference might work.''
In fact, Republicans know exactly how it would work: they would have to compromise.
. . .
House leaders are stalling by insisting on a ''preconference,'' which Patty Murray, the Senate budget chairwoman, has resisted. Clearly, what is frustrating Republicans is that they do not have an imminent crisis to exploit to get their way. Since 2011, they have repeatedly relied on the threat of a government shutdown, or a possible credit default, to force damaging spending cuts. (That is how the sequester was created.)
Even now, they are discussing using the debt-ceiling expiration, later this summer or fall, to extort corporation-friendly changes to the tax code that raise no revenue. And this week they are bringing up a dangerous bill that would pay private bondholders in the event of a default.
The demands for regular order were hollow and dishonest. The only way House Republicans can achieve their extremist agenda is not through preserving order, but by causing chaos.
May 6 -- Majority Leader Harry Reid requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Cruz blocks this request.
May 7 -- Senator Murray requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator McConnell blocks this request.
May 8 -- Senator Warner requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator McConnell blocks this request.
May 8 -- Washington Post, "Budget squabbles"
The juvenile delinquency wasn't terribly surprising, given what happened Monday on the Senate floor. When Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attempted to name conferees to work out a budget deal with the House, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) objected. Reid said Cruz was acting like "the schoolyard bully."
"I wasn't aware we were in a schoolyard," Cruz replied.
Valid point: In a schoolyard, adults are sometimes present.
Murray picked up the theme on Tuesday. "In a 'regular order' world," she said, "we would begin to sit down in an open, transparent way and work toward a compromise. But unfortunately at this point the Republicans are objecting."
Ryan, up next, said that he would prefer to work things out on the side. "We don't want to go to conference just for the sake of going to conference," he explained. Never mind that he had demanded for years that the Senate produce a budget so they could have just such a conference.
May 9 -- Senator Murray requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator McConnell blocks this request.
May 13 -- New York Times, "Who Can Take Republicans Seriously?"
Senate and House Republicans are refusing to meet with Democrats to negotiate over the budgets passed by each chamber. Four times in the last two weeks, Senate leaders have proposed beginning a conference committee to hash out a federal budget; four times they have been blocked by Republicans. The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said they were afraid the committee might reach an agreement to raise both taxes on the rich and the debt ceiling, which are, of course, the Democrats' stated goals. Knowing that their positions would be deeply unpopular among the public if their stubbornness were exposed in an open committee, Republicans would simply prefer not to talk at all.
Instead of negotiation, Republicans cling to their strategy of extorting budget demands by threatening not to raise the debt ceiling. On Thursday, the House passed a stunningly dangerous bill that would allow foreign and domestic bondholders to be paid if Republicans forced a government default, while cutting off all other government payments except Social Security benefits. The bill has no possibility of becoming law, but its passage was a deliberate thumb in the eye to Mr. Obama, business leaders and those who say the debt ceiling should not be used for political leverage.
Republican lawmakers have become reflexive in rejecting every extended hand from the administration, even if the ideas were ones that they themselves once welcomed. Under the circumstances, Mr. Obama would be best advised to stop making peace offerings. Only when the Republican Party feels public pressure to become a serious partner can the real work of governing begin.
May 14 -- Senator Warner requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator McConnell blocks this request.
May 15 -- Senator Wyden requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator McConnell blocks this request.
May 16 -- Senator Murray requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Lee blocks this request.
May 21 -- Senator Murray requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Paul blocks this request.
May 22 -- Senator Kaine requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Rubio blocks this request.
May 23 -- Senator McCaskill requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Lee blocks this request.
May 23 -- Washington Times, "Conservatives propose balanced budget, higher debt limit"
The House and Senate have made no progress in hammering out their differences. In fact, they can't even agree to start the conference committee that would be tasked with negotiating.
Senate Democrats have tried repeatedly over the past few weeks to initiate the conference. They have been blocked by Republicans who say they first want assurances on taxes and debt.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said conferences are how these issues are supposed to be worked out and that it made no sense to try to tie negotiators' hands ahead of time. He also said Republicans will have an equal say in the conference because they control the House.
"Do Senate Republicans not trust their House Republican colleagues to hold the line on their priorities?" Mr. Reid said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said that is exactly the problem.
May 25 -- New York Times, "Budget Dispute Deepens a Rift Within G.O.P."
In full view of C-Span cameras trained on the floor this week, Senators John McCain of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine jousted with a new generation of conservatives -- Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky -- over the party's refusal to allow the Senate to open budget talks with the House despite Senate Republicans' long call for Democrats to produce a budget.
It was the Old Guard versus the Tea Party, but with real ramifications, as Congress careens toward another debt limit and spending crisis this fall with seemingly no one at the steering wheel. The newer members say negotiations should go forward only with a binding precondition that a budget deal cannot raise the government's statutory borrowing limit.
. . .
Republicans made the failure of Senate Democrats to pass a budget a central talking point in the 2012 campaign, going so far this year as to pass legislation withholding Congressional pay if budgets were not approved this spring. Now, some Republicans say the fact that members of their own party are standing in the way of a House-Senate conference committee undermines their fiscal message.
''This to me is an issue of integrity,'' said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee. ''We've pressed for a budget. We ought to go to conference.''
But the budget hawks have not budged, and they have even taken aim at their party in strikingly critical language.
''Here is the dirty little secret about some of those on the right side of the aisle,'' Mr. Cruz said of his fellow Republicans. ''There are some who would very much like to cast a symbolic vote against raising the debt ceiling and nonetheless allow our friends on the left side of the aisle to raise the debt ceiling. That, to some Republicans, is the ideal outcome.''
Mr. McCain called the demands of his Republican colleagues ''absolutely out of line and unprecedented.'' The Senate passed the budget before dawn on March 23 after a grueling all-night session, he noted, saying it was time to try to reach a final deal with the House in a negotiating conference.
''Will this deliberative body, whether it is the greatest in the world or the worst in the world, go ahead and decide on this issue, so we can at least tell the American people we are going to do what we haven't done for four years and what every family in America sooner or later has to do -- and that is to have a budget?'' he asked. Although few of Mr. McCain's colleagues took to the floor to join him, many have expressed similar views.
Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Republican leadership, said that at this point, resistance had to give.
''I suspect senators have held back long enough on the decision to go to conference,'' he said.
. . .
''They could create crisis by having a government shutdown or holding everything back until November and threatening a debt default. That would be to their political detriment,'' [Senator Patty] Murray said. ''I think the American people have had it with that kind of hostage-taking.''
But Mr. Rubio said that he was not about to give in, and that a single senator might have the power to hold back negotiations indefinitely. ''I'm not sure this is an issue I can ever change my opinion on,'' he said.
Unfortunately, Senator Blunt was wrong and Senator Murray was right in predicting how Republicans in Congress would act (or refuse to). But since this has gone on long enough for one day's column, you'll have to wait until tomorrow for the conclusion of this definitive history of Republican obstructionism on budget negotiations which they are now demanding as ransom. I will post a link to the second part of this timeline here for easy reference, when tomorrow's article is published.
[Note: The second half of this article has now been published. You can read it at my site, chrisweigant.com.]
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