The Republican leadership in Congress is reportedly considering a brilliant idea. Now, normally when I start a column off with a line like that, my intent is to be as snarky and caustic as possible (especially when I use the word "brilliant"). Not this time, though -- this time I am offering nothing but praise for what could indeed be a great way for Republicans to solve their internal struggle about how to respond to President Obama's upcoming new policy on immigration. I say this because while the idea of rescission would certainly allow the Tea Partiers to stage a big political drama, it would also allow the adults in the Republican Party to move the possibility of shutting down the government completely off the table for almost a year into the future. At this point, that seems like a win-win proposition for all, and about the best of all the possible scenarios.
Republicans are gearing up to respond to Obama's new immigration announcement. They are currently considering a number of possible paths to take, all of which hinge on the federal budget. They are facing an upcoming deadline (December 11) to pass some sort of budget bill for the remainder of the 2015 fiscal year. They could either pass a bill covering the whole year (taking us to next October), pass a bill which punts the problem to the new Congress (they'd likely extend it only a few months, to force the new Congress to act fairly quickly), pass some sort of partial budget (defunding the parts they didn't like), or not pass anything and shut the government down right before Christmas. Those are the basic four options.
The Establishment Republicans are pushing to pass a full year's budget, to get it out of the way and offer the American economy some stability. The next Congress would then be free to have new battles over the 2016 budget which they'd need to pass by October -- which, incidentally, is the way things are supposed to happen in normal times. The Tea Partiers, however, are pushing for more confrontation sooner (of course). Some of them would be happy to have a big bruising budget battle in the next few weeks, in fact. Some are now pushing for passing portions of the federal budget, but either refusing to pass other portions (in protest over Obama's action) or passing them with zero money allocated to implement Obama's new plan.
There's a big problem with the Tea Party strategy, however -- a problem the Republican leadership is well aware of. Tea Partiers are convinced that the weapon they can wield will be so daunting that President Obama will just capitulate rather than watch it be used. They were convinced of this a year ago, but Obama did not capitulate and the government shut down for three weeks. The Republican leadership is desperately trying to avoid walking into this trap once again. Rescission could be the best way for Republicans to avoid this trap.
The way it would work would be for Republicans to pass a reasonable budget bill now which covers all of next year. It would need to be fairly reasonable, because it's going to need some Democratic votes to get passed (probably in both chambers of Congress). So Senate Democrats can influence the parameters of the bill to some degree. The Tea Partiers will howl, but mainstream Republicans in the House and Senate, together with a handful of Democrats, can manage to get some sort of budget on Obama's desk that he can actually sign without too many reservations.
Next year, the Tea Partiers would be let loose in to stage their big political melodrama. A rescission bill would be drafted which yanked back certain money from the president's control -- money already appropriated. This is the definition of rescission: snipping away at budgets already in place. The Tea Partiers could run amok and de-fund everything they don't like in Obama's agenda. They'd be running amok while holding a pair of rescissors, so to speak.
At heart, the idea's pretty silly, when it comes to immigration. On Obamacare, for instance, a rescission bill could do major damage to an Obama program. But on immigration, the way the Tea Partiers would be protesting would be to zero out the budget for things like the Border Patrol. How is that going to achieve their aims? Furloughing all the agents along the border doesn't solve any problem at all, but being illogical has never stopped Tea Partiers before.
But the main thing is that it would all be a giant exercise in blowing hot air. Nothing would result from the effort. The government wouldn't shut down. The budget would remain in place. Why? Because any rescission bill needs to be signed into law by the president. Which he just isn't going to do. This is why it's such a brilliant idea -- because at the end of the day, after all the shouting's done, it would have precisely zero effect on the full faith and credit of the United States of America.
Some Republicans are a bit unclear on this concept. Several have been recently quoted saying it'd only take a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress to accomplish rescission. They are wrong. The bill, like all others, would require either a signature from the president or veto-proof (two-thirds) majorities in both houses of Congress. It will not get either of these things.
This is the brilliant part about the rescission tactic. The Republican leadership will pass a budget bill in the next few weeks, with some Democratic help, and then everyone can go home for the holidays. When the new Congress convenes next year, the Tea Partiers can rant and rave and have the biggest dog-and-pony show for the media that they can manage. They'll spend weeks and weeks letting off steam, and they'll whip themselves into a rescission frenzy. They will terrify their fellow Republicans (with threats of primary challenges to come), who will likely wind up voting for the rescission bill. They will triumphantly place this rescission bill on President Obama's desk, with the cameras rolling and lots of talk of the importance of their actions. And then President Obama will veto it.
It'll be the same knock-down drag-out budget brouhaha we've been locked into for the past four years, but with an important difference. During all the previous fiscal cliffs and government shutdown threats, if nothing was achieved then everything ground to a halt. Inaction produced disaster, in other words. This time around, the battle will be just as frenzied, but when it all falls apart the budget will still be in place. It effectively takes the dangerous weapon of a government shutdown out of the hands of the petulant children who don't understand the dangers of using it. Holding a multi-week temper tantrum in Congress will allow for much political hay to be made on both sides of the aisle, but there will be no looming disaster which requires congressional action by a deadline. Just the opposite, in fact.
This is why rescission is such a brilliant idea. If the Republican leadership can sell it to enough of its members, it could be a way out of the perpetual crisis machine that the budget has become. By separating the politics from the actual real-world results, it allows both factions of the Republican Party to get what they want. The Establishment Republicans will know that there won't be a government shutdown until at least next October, which will make their Big Business bosses very happy. The Tea Party will be allowed to spend months making fiery speeches and denouncing the dictatorial Obama to their heart's content. They'll be able to dominate the Washington narrative well into next year. They'll be allowed to fashion as extreme a bill as they feel like, and they'll also likely be able to browbeat most of the other Republicans into voting for it. A good time is guaranteed for all, in other words.
But at the end of the day, the National Parks will still be open and the Social Security checks will still be in the mail. President Obama will veto the bill, and we can all rest assured that the government will not shutter its doors after the dust has settled.
I have no idea what the chances are of the Republican leadership selling this idea to its Tea Party members. It would strip the Tea Partiers of a lot of real-world power, in exchange for being let off the leash to play politics, without the threat of real-word consequences. Perhaps they can be convinced to follow this route -- as I said, I have no idea of its chances. Perhaps enough of them can be convinced that there is some magic way they can pass a rescission bill with 218 House votes and 51 Senate votes and have it become law without Obama's signature. That sounds snarky, but listen to what one Republican House member had to say about what his own leadership was telling him about the plan:
Chairman [Hal] Rogers just got up and said if we pass an omnibus [budget bill] and then the president does this executive amnesty, he said we can rescind it, and we can rescind it with 218 and 51 and we don't need the president. That's what he just told me. I've never heard that before.
So perhaps enough of them can be convinced that this is true (spoiler alert: it isn't). If this false promise is believed by enough Tea Partiers, then perhaps a year-long budget bill could pass within the next few weeks, and they wouldn't realize they'd been snookered until afterwards. But however they manage it, by hook or crook, the new Republican rescission strategy would be the best way forward for the country, because it would divorce the political frenzy from the threat of shutting down the government. Which is why I think it's such a brilliant idea.
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