The wild and crazy ride to the craptacular ‘CRomnibus’ bill


Screenshot-6On Friday, the hapless TanMan, Weeper of the House John Boehner, had to delay a vote on the craptacular “CRomnibus” bill because he did not have the votes within his own caucus, i.e., the “majority of the majority” or the now defunct Hastert Rule within the GOP.

Boehner really ought to be more polite to President Obama because, once again, strong-arm lobbying of Democrats by the White House and House Democratic leadership produced the necessary Democratic votes to bail out the TanMan’s sorry ass and send the “CRomnibus” bill to the Senate. I’ve lost count of how many times “No Drama” Obama has bailed out Boehner with Democratic votes.

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post writes, Obama’s Boehner bailout:

How often will President Obama come to House Speaker John Boehner’s rescue even when Republican leaders aren’t willing to give much in return? And does the president want to preside over a split in his party?

These are among the questions raised by the dramatic budget battle that came close to breaching the deadline for a government shutdown.

But along the way, something quite unexpected happened: Progressive Democrats nearly derailed the bill themselves to block two provisions sneaked into it that had nothing to do with taxing and spending. One undercut the financial reforms of the Dodd-Frank law by loosening its restrictions on banks’ ability to use taxpayer-insured funds from depositors for some potentially risky transactions involving derivatives.

Former representative Barney Frank warned that tossing such a provision into a must-pass bill would provide “a road map for the stealth unwinding of financial reform.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who once again took the lead for the party’s populists, called it “the worst of government for the rich and powerful.”

The other provision further tore apart campaign finance laws by allowing big donors to contribute up to $1,555,200 to a political party committee over a two-year election cycle, and a couple to give up to $3,110,400.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) nicely captured the government-for-sale message sent by the two components. “You’ve got the quid and the quo in one bill,” he said.

Typically, Democrats are more anxious than Republicans to avoid government shutdowns, which has the effect of strengthening those who use shutdown threats as a form of hostage-taking. This time, Boehner was operating from weakness. He desperately wanted to avoid drama but could not pass the bill with Republican votes alone, since his tea party members wanted to pick a fight with the president over his executive order on immigration. On the final House tally late Thursday night, Boehner lost 67 members of his party.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi thought the circumstances gave the progressive holdouts a chance to force the offending provisions out of the bill. But before they had any chance of testing their newfound leverage, the White House issued a statement calling for passage of the bill while criticizing the provisions in question. The administration feared scuttling a deal it saw as far better than anything the new Congress would produce. Obama went to work rounding up Democratic votes for Boehner.

Pelosi, one of Obama’s most loyal allies, wasn’t pleased. “I’m enormously disappointed that the White House feels that the only way they can get a bill is to go along with this,” she said on the House floor.

In the end, enough Democrats, particularly those who negotiated the appropriations — agreed with the president and were able to push the bill through. But Democrats who think their party’s resurgence depends on breaking with classic special-interest logrolling sent a message that they are not to be trifled with — and the fractiousness among Republicans in the House and Senate suggests that Democratic votes may count for something next year.

* * *

Pelosi played down such problems in an interview on Friday, insisting that the differences with the White House this time were primarily over short-term tactics. In trying to get a budget through, she said, the president and his lieutenants understandably wanted to “clear the decks” so the administration and Congress could start fresh next year.

“I am very confident in the White House and how we move forward,” she said, adding that the resistance of so many Democrats sent a signal to Boehner that there are limits on what she and her colleagues will accept, particularly when it comes to undercutting financial reform.

The Democratic opposition led by Senator Elizabeth Warren led to a plethora of the lazy media villager’s favorite headline: “Democrats divided.” I swear these lazy media villagers do this just for the alliteration. Republicans were equally divided and had to be bailed out by Democratic votes, but was that the headline? No.

Anyway, Greg Sargent of the Washington Post agrees the “Democrats divided” meme was really more about tactics than substantive policy differences. How divided are the Democrats?

Over the weekend, the Senate passed the sweeping “cromnibus” bill funding the government for most of the year. Liberal Democrats failed to block the measure that has created all the controversy, the provision banning federally insured financial institutions from dealing in exotic swaps. The move weakens financial reform.

More than 20 Senate Dems — led by Elizabeth Warren — voted against it, unleashing a barrage of headlines about how divided Democrats are over the identity of the party heading into the 2016 presidential race, with all of this portending progressive unhappiness with Hillary Clinton. But how divided are Democrats when it comes to economic issues, and what is the true nature of those divisions?

As Paul Krugman notes in his column today decrying the move as an “indefensible” giveaway to Wall Street “wheelers and dealers,” this was more about tactics than substance:

It’s true that most of the political headlines these past few days have been about Democratic division, with Senator Elizabeth Warren urging rejection of a funding bill the White House wanted passed. But this was mainly a divide about tactics, with few Democrats actually believing that undoing Dodd-Frank is a good idea.

Or, as the Post write-up puts it: “the question was not whether Democrats supported the individual provisions…it was whether individual members considered them so egregious as to merit blowing up a wide-ranging deal.”

Indeed, even opponents of the provision may not have supported sinking the whole deal in the end. There are signs Nancy Pelosi may have quietly signaled to Dems that they should feel free to vote Yes on the government funding bill, once they had failed to get the bad provision pulled. And Dem Senators who voted No could do so in the knowledge that the overall bill would pass; it’s unclear whether they would have sank the whole thing. After all, funding the government for a year makes it harder for Republicans to use brinksmanship to target Obamacare and E.P.A. regulations or damage the recovery.

So what does all this mean going forward? There is broad Democratic agreement that the party must come up with a more comprehensive response to stagnating wages and the failure of the recovery to achieve widespread, more equitable distribution. Dems mostly agree on a range of policy responses, such as a minimum wage hike, pay equity, expanded pre-K education, and big job-creating investments in infrastructure.

* * *

Meanwhile, even the tactical disagreements on display in the just-concluded budget battle could matter more and more over time. Progressives will demand maximum resistance to future efforts to whittle away at Wall Street reform, while more Wall Street-friendly Dems may be too compromising on this front.

Cruz-McCarthyFor real party division there was the Tea Party’s dangerous demagogue Ted “Calgary” Cruz, the Canadian-born Cuban immigrant reincarnation of Joe McCarthy who wants to close the door behind him to other immigrants (“the Castro Express Card, don’t leave home without it”) who staged a spectacular tactical failure over opposition to President Obama’s executive orders on immigration, and handed Democrats an early Christmas present.

Steve Benson writes Senate Dems find an unwitting ally in Ted Cruz:

As the dust settled on Saturday’s drama in the U.S. Senate, there was one bottom-line result: Congress approved a $1.1 trillion spending package – the so-called “CRomnibus” – that funds most federal operations through the end of the fiscal year. The final vote in the upper chamber was 56 to 40, and President Obama will sign the bill into law.

But it’s what happened before the vote that people will be talking about for a while.

As of Friday night, it appeared the Senate leadership in both parties had reached an agreement on the schedule: members would vote on the spending package on Monday, and if Democrats were lucky, they might get a few confirmation votes in before the Senate recessed for the year. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters, “See you Monday” on his way out the door late Friday.

As MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin reported, however, that was before a couple of far-right senators hatched a plan of their own.

Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are facing a backlash of their own from Republican colleagues after scuttling a deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow lawmakers to leave town over the weekend and vote on the bill Monday.

The agreement between the leaders required the unanimous consent of members, but an unsuccessful attempt by Lee and Cruz on Friday to force a vote on a measure to defund President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration upended their plan.

The result was an extraordinary gift to Democrats, handed to them by unwitting allies: two conservative Republicans who plainly didn’t know what they were doing.

Under the schedule Reid and McConnell agreed upon, the spending bill would get wrapped up long before a possible shutdown, but the future of several pending Obama administration nominees was in doubt – some would get votes, some would probably run out of time.

But Cruz and Lee thought they had a better idea: they scuttled the McConnell/Reid deal, demanded a vote on the constitutionality of the president’s immigration policy, and kept the Senate in session for a rare Saturday workday.

It was, in terms of Senate procedure, a fumble – and Democrats were only too pleased to pick up the ball and run with it.

Dems, suddenly with time to kill, filed cloture motions on 24 pending executive branch and judicial nominees on Saturday. Why is that important? Because given the way the Senate operates, there’s a gap between when a nomination is brought to the floor and when the nominee receives a confirmation vote.

What McConnell and most GOP senators wanted was a narrow window: the Senate would vote on the spending package on Monday, at which point Reid would start the clock on the nominations, clearing votes for later this week. Republicans assumed – and were probably correct – that most members would want to start their holiday break sooner, and adjournment might derail nominees who might otherwise be approved.

But thanks to Cruz and Lee, that timeline was moved up: Reid started the clock on Saturday, meaning confirmation votes can begin later this morning. In other words, a couple of far-right senators made it easier for Democrats and Obama to get what they wanted – and approve some nominees who were likely to fail were it not for the Cruz/Lee plan.

Giddy Democrats could hardly believe their good fortune. Meanwhile, the other Senate Republicans – who didn’t know what Cruz and Lee were up to, and weren’t in a position to explain what a mistake they were making – were livid. Many of them were eager to tell reporters – out loud and on the record – how badly their right-wing colleagues had screwed up. Indeed, Senate Dems posted an online collection of quotes from Republican senators bashing the Cruz/Lee gambit – and the list of quotes isn’t short. Asked for her reaction, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) added, “I think this is ridiculous.”

The far-right stunt turned “many of Cruz’s colleagues openly against him,” and when his constitutional point of order did come up for a vote, it failed 74 to 22, with many Republicans, including McConnell himself, voting with Democrats to convey their irritation.

* * *

What Democrat got thanks to Cruz and Lee: the opportunity to advance dozens of Obama nominees, some of whom might have otherwise failed.

What Republicans got: nothing.

Some allies of Cruz and Lee will argue that at least Republicans got to vote on a measure criticizing the president’s immigration policy, but (a) that measure was symbolic; (b) the measure failed; (c) the measure was always going to fail; and (d) the measure was going to get a floor vote anyway. Moving it didn’t help the GOP in any way.

[As Greg Sargent points out, “Cruz said this before the vote: “If you believe President Obama’s executive order was unconstitutional vote yes. If you think the president’s executive order is constitutional vote no.”  The Cruz move infuriated fellow Republicans, some 20 of whom ultimately opposed it. So, by Cruz’s own lights, all those Republican Senators think Obama’s move is Constitutional, right?”]

Making matters slightly worse for Republicans, as of late Friday, the only thing the political world wanted to talk about were the divisions within the Democratic ranks. Just 24 hours later, the only thing the political world wanted to talk about was the fact that Senate Republicans really seem to hate Ted Cruz.

It didn’t have to be this way. If Cruz and Lee spent a little more time learning how the Senate works, if they’d bothered to check in with their own leaders about the chamber’s procedural rules, if they’d thought about the consequences of their actions, this would have gone much differently.

Democrats, however, are awfully appreciative of their ignorance.

And this dangerous demagogue wants to run for president. God save us from Ted Cruz!