AUSTIN, October 16, 2013 — On a local radio broadcast this afternoon, House Speaker John Boehner commented that “there’s just no reason for our members to vote ‘no’ today,” referring to a likely vote this evening on an agreement to raise the debt limit and end the government shutdown.
This is the same message Boehner took to Republicans in the House, arguing that it was time to cut their losses and accept that the Democrats were never going to make any reasonable concessions and move on to the next battle. With heavy public and political pressure against pushing this crisis any farther, Boehner’s agreement to bring the Senate proposal to a vote on the floor will almost certainly lead to its passage despite the objection of many House Republicans.
The deal struck between Democrat and Republican leaders in the Senate raises the debt ceiling, funds the government through January 15, and requires the formation of a joint committee to engage in long-term budget negotiations. Based on their initial victory speeches in the Senate, the Democrats are assuming this will amount to handing them a blank check with no substantive cuts, including doing away with sequestration.
Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was not happy. When a group of reporters cornered him in the hallway outside the Senate chambers he broke with traditional decorum and held a brief impromptu press conference, expressing dissatisfaction on behalf of his constituents and regular citizens nationwide:
“Once again it appears the Washington establishment is refusing to listen to the American people. The deal that has been cut provides no relief to the millions of Americans who are hurting because of Obamacare. The deal which has been cut provides no relief to all the young people coming out of school who can’t find a job because of Obamacare. It provides no relief to all the single parents who have been forced into part time work struggling to feed their kids on 29 hours a week. It provides no relief to all the hard working families who are facing skyrocketing health insurance premiums. And it provides no relief to all the seniors, to all the people with disabilities who are right now getting notices from their health insurance companies that they are losing their health insurance because of Obamacare.”
Cruz’s focus remains on Obamacare, but the proposal touches on broader issues of fiscal policy which many grassroots Republicans are also not happy about. Raising the debt limit and the spending increases which it implies are widely unpopular, and Republican response to the effects of the sequester and even the shutdown has actually been relatively positive, despite the capricious actions of the administration in shutting down open air monuments.
Cruz summed up how many people outside the beltway in both parties feel about their government, saying:
“This fight, this debate will continue until collectively the American people can make DC listen, can get real relief for all of the people who are hurt because of Obamacare … sadly, the United States Senate has said Washington will do nothing — it has created the problems you’re facing — but Washington will do nothing to address the suffering you’re feeling.”
Yet in the end, Cruz capitulated, admitting that “there’s nothing to be gained by delaying this vote one day or two days.” He plans to vote against the plan when it comes before the Senate tonight, but will not take action to block or delay its passage.
What is quite clear is that Cruz and his party reformer allies need is more numbers on their side, and this loss for conservative government in Washington may translate into victories for the grassroots in 2014.
The chief Republican engineer of this capitulation is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who now faces a serious primary challenger. Matt Bevin is a successful Louisville businessman who has started off his campaign on a strong note by loaning $600,000 of his own money to the campaign. Support is already pouring in from grassroots organizations and donors around the country, and he should have the kind of substantial resources needed to challenge a powerful establishment figure like Boehner.
Boehner may also be in trouble. A poll in his home district shows primary voters likely to support anyone but him at over 50 percent, and he already has three challengers with strong credentials and fundraising ability. While he may be able to hold onto support as speaker from within the Republican caucus in the House, it seems likely that his growing unpopularity at home may bring him down anyway.
Key Republican grassroots groups which will play a role in the 2014 election have also decided to weigh in.
FreedomWorks announced that they would be treating today’s vote as a “key vote when calculating FreedomWorks’ Economic Freedom Scorecard for 2013,” a substantial threat to those whose votes they don’t like.
The Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas expressed solidarity with Cruz and effectively urged their congressional delegation to make a symbolic vote against the proposal, encouraging them to “send a strong message to Washington that fiscal irresponsibility and expanding the federal debt are unacceptable.” They also promised that they will be “keeping in mind how our representatives vote today and what actions they take once the shutdown ends when we decide how to advise voters and where to direct our support next November.”
We all understand that some sort of compromise was unavoidable on these issues. Too many problems were building up to sustain the situation. Even Senator Cruz accepts that inevitability. We may agree that a vote was necessary, but not all agree on the significance of today’s vote.
Party leaders see this compromise as the end of a crisis. What they don’t get is that for grassroots activists this is just the beginning of the fight to send Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and Justin Amash more allies. It’s a great kick-off to the hundreds of campaigns to unseat incumbents all around the nation.
This is not a great moment for the Republican Party in Washington, but a loss for the beltway elites and party insiders may mean a major victory for the grassroots in 2014.
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