A House Divided

 

The announcement of Speaker Boehner’s sudden retirement has mostly been met with joy, and I am not sorry to see him go. But we should temper our enthusiasm about how radical a change will come with a new speaker.

The reality of the House, in my opinion, is that it is not made up of two parties. It is made up of three.

Democrats: This is easy. They’re what’s left over after Nancy Pelosi’s Obamacare jihad, which cleansed the House of moderate blue-dog democrats. Their districts are so gerrymandered that there’s little threat of them losing an election, no matter how crazy they are: See Maxine Waters, et al.

Republicans: Nominally the GOP, but in reality the line shifts on every vote. Their districts are not universally conservative, and they tend toward more moderate positions. To retain their seats, they don’t rock the boat.

Freedom Caucus (FC): Formed in January 2015, with Jim Jordan of Ohio as Chairman, these are the GOP’s troublemakers. They come from strong conservative districts, gerrymandered to stay that way. The Freedom Caucus grew out of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), which used to be a conservative voting block. When it became a conservative litmus test, many jumped on board — but they didn’t vote with the RSC, and it became ineffectual.

The total membership of the FC isn’t widely known. I’ve seen figures as low 37 and as high as 40 from credible sources and Wikipedia. For my analysis, I’ll give them 38 reliable members. Your mileage my vary.

The magic number in the House to get anything done is 218, and none of these groups make the hurdle. Republicans are close, and a handful or more defections to the right on certain votes helps to enforce their minority status.

The breakdown is:

House Breakdown

This is the landscape Speaker Boehner lived with and the new speaker will inherit.

There’s no majority, and the tendency of the leadership to discount the FC and sometimes berate them makes it hard to create a majority from the right that includes the FC and Republicans.

The FC’s districts are solidly right-wing, and expect their representatives to use every means possible, including the power of the purse and even impeachment, to stop the progressive agenda. FC Representatives who fail to do this may expect a primary threat next cycle.

If the leadership tries to move right, toward the FC, many Republicans will drop off for fear of losing their seats to Democrats in districts they may have won, say, by 50.5%. Left with a minority position, the leadership has to move left — usually pretty far — and pick up Democrat votes to move legislation.

Nancy Pelosi is my pick for most effective legislator of the 21st century to date. She and Steny Hoyer are successful at unifying the Democratic vote on many issues. Thus it becomes a layup for the speaker and his chosen lieutenants and committee chairs to move left, drop the FC and some of the Republicans, and secure a majority sufficient move legislation.

We will have a new speaker soon, but we will not have a new pie chart. The next speaker could be Jim Jordan, but his challenge will no different from Speaker Boehner’s. The reality for a speaker coming from the FC is that in their beliefs about the proper size, scope, and role of the federal government, the Republicans are ideologically closer to Democrats than the FC.

Will things be better in the House? Unlikely, and I personally expect much worse, with the infighting being vicious.

Is there a way forward? The impediment the 114th Congress faces in moving conservative legislation to Obama’s desk, where it may be vetoed, is the Senate. Already, the Washington Times has come out with an article quoting the longest-tenured state Republican chairman calling for McConnell’s resignation.

I love a good revolution and even enjoy a bad one. I am happy to see Boehner go, but he did not go because anyone got a scalp. He got rich and tired, end of story. The landscape for the next speaker doesn’t improve and is precisely why nobody in the House wants the job, and every attempt to overthrow Boehner failed. There was always a group yelling for Boehner’s scalp. But nobody wants to set up shop in the speaker’s teepee.

There are 112 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    Brent,

    I disagree with you a bit. Most of the Republican caucus really are conservative and want to see taxes and regulation reduced. But…they care more about getting reelected than anything else. Which is why they end up voting however the money men want them to.

    • #1
  2. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Z in MT:Brent,

    I disagree with you a bit. Most of the Republican caucus really are conservative and want to see taxes and regulation reduced. But…they care more about getting reelected than anything else. Which is why they end up voting however the money men want them to.

    Z, that is possible. I come from the school that if it walks, talks, quacks like a duck, well.

    One of Speaker Boehner’s legacies is that he was a money raising machine and wielded considerable influence doling it out for elections. It is hard to imagine his replacement being as prolific initially so maybe the Republicans will be able to move right.

    • #2
  3. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Nice analysis.

    Is HFC identical to Tea Party, or just overlapping somewhat?

    • #3
  4. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Augustine:Nice analysis.

    Is HFC identical to Tea Party, or just overlapping somewhat?

    I think overlapping is a better characterization.

    It is easy to forget there isn’t a national Tea Party. It is still a fragmented local movement with a general set of priorities. A Representative could be identical to one Tea Party and slightly out of step with another.

    • #4
  5. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Thanks for this, Brent. Its important for us all to understand what the situation is so that we can plan effectively. Like Boehner, McConnell will get the blame for the Senate doing nothing, but the Democrats voting discipline in maintaining the filibuster is the real impediment. Even Senate Majority Leader Ted Cruz would not be much more effective.

    I also agree with Z in MT on this – I think many conservatives mistake differences in strategy for differences in philosophy.

    • #5
  6. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Nice analysis, but I think that in the end, the success of the coming Congress will depend on the group you talk least about: those 180 non-FC Republicans.

    Ultimately, those “run-of-the-mill” Republicans form the largest voting bloc in the House, and are the same members who voted to re-elect John Boehner twice. Indeed, I have a sneaking suspicion that one reason Boehner could safely remain speaker was by acting as cannon fodder for many rank-and-file Republicans who are likely a lot more squeamish and squishy behind closed doors than in front of a microphone.

    My expectation is that Kevin McCarthy will become speaker, and the only change will be that the dominance of squishy interests in the House will become even more transparent.

    • #6
  7. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Jamie Lockett:Thanks for this, Brent. Its important for us all to understand what the situation is so that we can plan effectively. Like Boehner, McConnell will get the blame for the Senate doing nothing, but the Democrats voting discipline in maintaining the filibuster is the real impediment. Even Senate Majority Leader Ted Cruz would not be much more effective.

    McConnell could easily move some things he chooses not to. Would Cruz be better? I have no idea, but would love to see him have a shot.

    I also agree with Z in MT on this – I think many conservatives mistake differences in strategy for differences in philosophy.

    I respect your and Z’s position, but at some point the rubber has to meet the road and these guys have to be accountable for their positions. I am not convinced that the Republicans in my scenario believe the Constitution limits the federal.

    There is an old saying about Christians. If we are ever put on trial for following Christ may there be enough evidence to convict.

    If we translate that to the House if Republicans were ever on trial for being conservative the majority of them would walk for lack of evidence.

    • #7
  8. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    BrentB67:Nancy Pelosi is my pick for most effective legislator of the 21st century to date.

    Perhaps, but don’t give her too much credit. There’s an underlying reason for Pelosi’s success: her caucus is naturally more united than Boehner’s (or even Reid’s). Herding cats isn’t as difficult when the cats all want to go in the same general direction.

    There is so much complaining about how more united Democrat politicians are on the same sites that host the right-wind circular firing squads. It should be apparent that the reason Democrats vote more consistently is less due to their Machiavellian leaders, and more due to the fact that their voters simply agree more.

    • #8
  9. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Mendel:Nice analysis, but I think that in the end, the success of the coming Congress will depend on the group you talk least about: those 180 non-FC Republicans.

    Ultimately, those “run-of-the-mill” Republicans form the largest voting bloc in the House, and are the same members who voted to re-elect John Boehner twice. Indeed, I have a sneaking suspicion that one reason Boehner could safely remain speaker was by acting as cannon fodder for many rank-and-file Republicans who are likely a lot more squeamish and squishy behind closed doors than in front of a microphone.

    My expectation is that Kevin McCarthy will become speaker, and the only change will be that the dominance of squishy interests in the House will become even more transparent.

    I am curious to see what happens to some of Boehner’s lieutenants.

    • #9
  10. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    The majority coalition has more than two parts. Divide the 48% into three parts. First, representatives from marginal seats. Agreed, these are the hardest to retain on controversial issues. As in 2006, these seats likely are the difference between Speaker X and Speaker Pelosi. Second, representatives who are not ideological. Third, representatives beholden to the Congressional power structure.

    The question is, how to fashion a series of issues that can capture 50% plus one vote of the coalition?

    • #10
  11. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Steve C.:The majority coalition has more than two parts. Divide the 48% into three parts. First, representatives from marginal seats. Agreed, these are the hardest to retain on controversial issues. As in 2006, these seats likely are the difference between Speaker X and Speaker Pelosi. Second, representatives who are not ideological. Third, representatives beholden to the Congressional power structure.

    The question is, how to fashion a series of issues that can capture 50% plus one vote of the coalition?

    I am pessimistic to the point I don’t think it is possible to capture 50% +1 from the right on meaningful issues of appropriations and the charade formerly known as the debt ceiling.

    • #11
  12. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    Well, that’s depressing. Geez Brent, you should dispense some Prozac with this. We are in serious need of a new pie chart.

    • #12
  13. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    There is one big difference between the HFC and the Republicans on policy and that is spending. The Republicans don’t care to hold the line on spending, and I bet more than a few pine for the days of the earmark. A large part of this has to do with defense spending. The Republicans are eager to increase defense spending, and to a degree they have a point (particularly in the Navy).

    However, I also believe that before we go raising DoD funding we have to reform the DoD. Our military is not a very good bargain.

    • #13
  14. TKC1101 Inactive
    TKC1101
    @TKC1101

    Very useful viewpoint. Thank you for this.

    Unless congress goes back to many individual bills for funding spread over the year and stops the omnibus must pass stuff, Congress as a functional institution of government is lost. It still continues as a functional institution of donor gimmes and representative enrichment.

    • #14
  15. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    TKC1101:Very useful viewpoint. Thank you for this.

    Unless congress goes back to many individual bills for funding spread over the year and stops the omnibus must pass stuff, Congress as a functional institution of government is lost. It still continues as a functional institution of donor gimmes and representative enrichment.

    GOPe cheerleaders promised us exactly that if the Republicans won a majority in the Senate in 2014 and Mitch McConnell was once again leading. Oops, didn’t really mean it because it is well known that without a GOPe in the White House, Mitch is helpless.

    • #15
  16. Al Kennedy Inactive
    Al Kennedy
    @AlKennedy

    Brent, thanks for a good analysis.

    I think you let the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) off too easily.  I can’t figure out what this group is for or what they want to do.  When Tom McClintock, a conservative from California, retired from the HFC he said their tactics undermined the ability of the House to advance conservative principles.

    You didn’t mention the role that talk radio and groups like Heritage Action have played in encouraging the split within the House.  I think it’s been significant.

    I agree that Hoyer and Pelosi are very good at whipping their caucus, but the reason is because Democrats only want to win, and Republicans want to implement the correct policy.  So we debate what the answer should be.

    If this split in the Republican House is not fixed, it will affect our ability to legislate in 2017 if we get a Republican president and keep the House and Senate.  Jay Cost has discussed this threat.

    The “power of the purse” given by the HFC is a canard.  Spending is controlled by appropriation bills which are passed and sent to the president.  And you need 218 members of the House to agree with your view.  Also, for several decades, Congress has been giving more and more power to the unelected bureaucracy managed by the president.  Contrast the number of legislative pages passed in the last two years with the number of regulation pages.  Why isn’t the HFC trying to reduce that?

    • #16
  17. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Re: The way forward.

    We need to get away from the big omnibus appropriation bills.  That in itself will be a battle, but it’s one worth fighting.  One clue is that you don’t ask the Democrats how the procedure to do this should work.   Another is that if any Republicans do not understand how to work the rhetorical battle against the media and Democrats to get this to work, they need to be removed from life support so others with a hope of recovery can have their hospice beds. I’m not going to explain here in public how to do it, but any Republican with more of a working brain than Terry Schiavo had ought to be able to figure out how.  Bill Clinton, if he were inclined to use his talents for good instead of evil, could do it using the brains in his little finger.

    The moral authority to undertake such an action would come from making some significant efforts to tear down corporate welfare.   Drive a stake through the Ex-Im bank. Trim those ag subsidies that are of the greatest benefit to the agricultural conglomerates.

    Oops.  Republicans don’t want to do that.

    Oh, well. Never mind.  Give up and let the new guy do the same as John Boehner did.

    • #17
  18. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    I’d like to believe that this will make things better, but experience has taught me otherwise. I’m afraid whoever gets that job, he’s going to be “next-Boehner” in tactics, leadership, and spite against his own members.

    • #18
  19. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    The Republican Party needs to go the way of the old Progressive Conservative Party in Canada: extinct.

    • #19
  20. Matthew Gilley Inactive
    Matthew Gilley
    @MatthewGilley

    Would you mind sharing your list of 38?

    • #20
  21. Al Kennedy Inactive
    Al Kennedy
    @AlKennedy

    Matthew Gilley:Would you mind sharing your list of 38?

    This is Wikipedia’s list:
    Amash, Justin MI-3
    Babin, Brian TX-6
    Blum,Rod  IA-1
    Brat, Dave VA-7
    Bridenstine, Jim OK-1
    Brooks, Mo AL-5
    Buck, Ken CO-4
    Clawson, Curt FL-19
    DeSantis, Ron FL-6
    Desjarlais, Scott TN-4
    Duncan, Jeff SC-3
    Fleming, John LA-4
    Franks, Trent AZ-8
    Garrett, Scott NJ-5
    Gosar, Paul AZ-1
    Griffith, Morgan VA-9
    Harris, Andy MD-1
    Hice, Jody GA-10
    Huelskamp KS-1
    Jordan, Jim OH-4
    Labrador, Raul ID-1
    Loudermilk, Barry GA-11
    Lummis, Cynthia WY-AL
    Meadows, Mark NC-11
    Mooney, Alex WV-2
    Mulvaney, Mick SC-5
    Palmer, Gary AL-6
    Pearce, Steve NM-2
    Perry, Scott PA-4
    Poe, Ted  TX-2
    Posey, Bill FL-8
    Ribble, Reid WI-8
    Rothfus, Keith PA-12
    Salmon, Matt AZ-5
    Sanford, Mark SC-1
    Schweikert, David AZ-6
    Stuzman, Marlin IN-3

    • #21
  22. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Matthew Gilley:Would you mind sharing your list of 38?

    Matthew, the best list I could find was going through articles from The Hill. Wikipedia has a page for them also.

    • #22
  23. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Mike LaRoche:The Republican Party needs to go the way of the old Progressive Conservative Party in Canada: extinct.

    Then what happens to those seats in the House? Some of the districts are marginal R seats that could easily go D.

    • #23
  24. John Penfold Member
    John Penfold
    @IWalton

    Thanks, that puts a lot into perspective.  Still, I see what you’re calling Republicans as a bunch of McClellans  calling  for a stronger army and more training and never entering the fight.   Some will get knocked off to be sure, but they can’t win the war unless they fight.  That is what leadership is.  They’re saying we can’t do anything unless we have the White House.  Is this true?  Why does it appear to  me to not be true of Democrats?

    • #24
  25. V the K Member
    V the K
    @VtheK

    The thing is, the Republican Party really doesn’t offer anything of substance to the Freedom Caucus. The Republican Party makes sure their big donors and the Chamber of Commerce are taken care of legislatively; Boehner and McConnell went to the wall on the last “budget battle” to make sure megabanks could gamble on derivatives with taxpayer money. But what does the Freedom Caucus get?
    “I’m sorry, we can’t do anything about the president’s Executive Amnesty, but we’ll hold some hearings on Planned Parenthood if it will make you wingnuts feel better.”

    • #25
  26. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    V the K:The thing is, the Republican Party really doesn’t offer anything of substance to the Freedom Caucus. The Republican Party makes sure their big donors and the Chamber of Commerce are taken care of legislatively; Boehner and McConnell went to the wall on the last “budget battle” to make sure megabanks could gamble on derivatives with taxpayer money. But what does the Freedom Caucus get? “I’m sorry, we can’t do anything about the president’s Executive Amnesty, but we’ll hold some hearings on Planned Parenthood if it will make you wingnuts feel better.”

    And hence my comment that Republicans are more similarly configured to Democrats than the Freedom Caucus.

    • #26
  27. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    BrentB67: There’s no majority, and the tendency of the leadership to discount the FC and sometimes berate them makes it hard to create a majority from the right that includes the FC and Republicans. The FC’s districts are solidly right-wing, and expect their representatives to use every means possible, including the power of the purse and even impeachment, to stop the progressive agenda. FC Representatives who fail to do this may expect a primary threat next cycle.

    The 9% made up by the FC represents the margin of victory, or at least the margin of majority in the House.

    If the Republican Leadership spent more time attacking the Democrats than the FC, and more time figuring out how to deliver results for the FC than the Democrats they might experience greater success.

    • #27
  28. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    John Penfold: They’re saying we can’t do anything unless we have the White House.  Is this true?

    Wasn’t true in the early years of Bush II. Won’t be true anytime in the future.

    • #28
  29. V the K Member
    V the K
    @VtheK

    And hence my comment that Republicans are more similarly configured to Democrats than the Freedom Caucus.

    Configured ideologically and emotionally like Democrats.  The problem is, the people they represent are, by and large, not configured like Democrats. Politicians will always have more in common with other politicians than with real people.

    • #29
  30. Adriana Harris Inactive
    Adriana Harris
    @AdrianaHarris

    Boehner is my representative and I hold no animosity towards him, but I’m happy to see him go. He has an extremely difficult job, I know, but he did it poorly. You must be able to speak well to be speaker and that he cannot do. Not to mention he tears up every time the winds blows. I’m looking for strength and fortitude in the house, not weeping. I’m hopeful some one with real leadership qualities will be able to unite Republicans and maybe persuade a few Democrats to the conservative side. But I understand with the current make up of the House it’s going to be difficult.

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.