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July 29, 2011 3:25 PM How big is the House GOP’s sane contingent?

By Steve Benen

House Speaker John Boehner (R) will, in all likelihood, finally pass a debt-ceiling bill later this afternoon. I was going to say “his” debt-ceiling bill, but we all know Boehner’s bill was effectively killed last night, and the revised version today is a different animal.

Today’s measure will finally clear the House in an entirely partisan way: no Democrats were involved in writing the bill; no Democrats will end up voting for the bill.

And then what? If Boehner has learned anything from this week, it should be this: if the House is going to prevent a global economic crisis next week, the Speaker is going to need to embrace a bill that can get at least some Democratic support. There’s really no way around this basic truth. The arithmetic is unforgiving.

With this in mind, Kevin Drum said something last night that got me thinking.

If Boehner can’t get the tea partiers in the House to support his proposal, and if Harry Reid can’t find 60 votes in the Senate for his, then pretty shortly they’ll figure out that there’s only one way to pass something: forge a compromise that can get substantial support from both Democrats and non-tea-party Republicans. Such a compromise is almost certainly available, and all it takes to get there is for Boehner to be willing to admit the obvious: the tea partiers just aren’t willing to deal, period. They want to burn the house down so they can build something better from the ashes. They’re insane.

So walk away from the tea partiers. Instead, strike a deal that a hundred non-insane House Republicans and 20 or 30 non-insane Senate Republicans can support. Add that to a majority of the Democratic caucus and you’re done. You’ve saved the country.

I strongly agree with all of this. By most estimates, there’s a group of House Republicans — I call it the “Suicide Squad” — that just don’t want to raise the debt ceiling and would gladly pursue default. They’ll vote for right-wing measures such as CC&B, or something close to it, but anything else is simply out of the question.

Exactly how big is this contingent? That’s unclear. There are 240 House Republicans, though, and it’ll take 217 votes to prevent a total disaster. Does the Suicide Squad include more than 23 members? Almost certainly, yes. This, again, makes it necessary for Boehner to embrace a plan that can garner some Democratic support.

For me, the most pressing question, which I don’t know the answer to, is, how big is the Republicans’ sane contingent? Kevin envisions 100 or so non-insane House Republicans joining a similar number of House Democrats to save the country. Sounds good. But are there 100 sane House Republicans? I honestly have no idea. Is there a reliable count of such things?

I should also note that there are 193 House Democrats, and if they could all (or nearly all) be convinced to support a deal, Boehner would really only have to deliver a few dozen House Republicans to prevent the catastrophe.

This won’t happen — it would surely mark the end of Boehner’s career — but if preventing a recession is a priority, the Speaker should at least keep the numbers in mind.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

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  • Raymond Kaiser on July 29, 2011 3:32 PM:

    The new bipartisan paradigm...

    Apparently a bipartisan agreement is now an agreement between the Republican Party and the Tea Party.

  • catclub on July 29, 2011 3:37 PM:

    How many GOP representatives will vote against the new Boehner bill BECAUSE it has the stupid Balanced Budget Amendment? That is the number of sane GOP representatives.

    It is also the number that are willing to not get re-elected (on purpose) in 2012 due to being primaried out of the party.

    I am thinking 4 or less.

  • blondie on July 29, 2011 3:39 PM:

    I don't think you can count on there being any sane Republicans in the House, because any who aren't foaming-at-the-mouth teabaggers are scared to death they'll face their own suicide primaries next year.

    Take my own representative (please!) - I've never liked her or voted for her, but she always seemed to be a middle-of-the-road Republican. But based on my conversation with her staff today, she's gonna march right off that cliff. The only reason I can imagine for her to be so committed to this course of action is that she's afraid of being primaried by someone more conservative.

    Doing what's best for her constituents? That takes a back seat.

  • MsJoanne on July 29, 2011 3:40 PM:

    Boehner's dead either way. If he even attempts to pass something approaching sane, he'll be primaried. If he deals with the Dems in any way, he'll be primaried. If he yields to the teabaggers, he may keep his speakership - for now - but after 2012, he's done as speaker. IOW, his career is toast.

    He played with fire; he nurtured it with lies, fanned it with rhetoric, and fed it with hate. Abd no natter what, he's going to get burned badly.

    See ya!

  • Rich on July 29, 2011 3:47 PM:

    Kevin Drum is usually about as creative as Joe Klein, but this is a question that should have been asked long ago. A bigger question is whether these reps have an apparatus to keep them from being primaried or otherwise disadvantaged in the next election cycle. I suspect that even a blowout of the teabagger freshman may not be enough to keep them from continuing their current course.

  • Josef K on July 29, 2011 3:50 PM:

    They want to burn the house down so they can build something better from the ashes. They’re insane.

    I hadn't thought of this dynamic quite that way before. It does explain some of the behavior here, or at least clarify the thinking behind it.

    Unfortunately, Speaker Boehner apparently feels maintaining his position is of greater priority than keeping the economy functioning properly. Perhaps he's convinced himself the President and even Rep. Cantor are to blame if the wheels come off, or if he actually looses his job anyway.

    I still feel zero sympathy for him.

  • Varecia on July 29, 2011 3:53 PM:

    blondie on July 29, 2011 3:39 PM:

    "...I don't think you can count on there being any sane Republicans in the House, because any who aren't foaming-at-the-mouth teabaggers are scared to death they'll face their own suicide primaries next year..."

    Probably so. They need to get a 'bigger picture' grip, however. Scared to death? Let's reserve that sort of emotion for life's real challenges. Losing a primary in any context isn't the worst thing that could happen, and especially in this context. It's like these people have never worked any other job before and don't envision that one could develop a productive life after Congress.

  • jjm on July 29, 2011 3:53 PM:

    I ask again, just what is keeping these rabid Tea Partiers in line? What's the enforcement mechanism?

    I cannot be the real, true American voters, because the polls are all against them and their priorities.

    It has to be that they know that they are completely UNELECTABLE unless they have massive capital infusions from the Club for Growth, the Kochs, GPS Crossroads, et al.

    Not one of them could win on their merits without the big bucks.

    So they are holding firm and doing what their backers want, not what the people want.

    The only way to combat this is to go out and get out the vote against them, if we still have a country after this sorry spectacle. As Obama put it so stingingly this morning: the investors will downgrade us because we no longer have a "AAA POLITICAL SYSTEM"

  • DRF on July 29, 2011 3:53 PM:

    The problem isn't whether there are enough "sane" Republicans in the House to join on a compromise bill and get it based. Certainly there are enough purely on a headcount basis.

    The problem really is that every one of them, including Boehner, are terrified of a primary challenge next year if they fall afoul of the Tea Party contingent, Rush Limbaugh, etc. They are sane but scared.

    It has been clear for some time, and it is even clearer today, there will be a serious bloodletting in the Republican Party. It may not be tomorrow, or this year; it may not even be next year, but it's coming.

  • DAY on July 29, 2011 3:55 PM:

    I keep hearing the "conventional wisdom" that they are afraid of being challenged by a farther to the right opponent.

    But, are there really enough GuanoNutz voters who would throw them out? And, if there are, I need only ask, "How did that work out for ya in the general election MS "I am not a witch!" O'donnell?

  • Sean Scallon on July 29, 2011 3:56 PM:

    Do you think this course of action, find at least 23 Republicans to vote with the Speaker and Democrats, would have been tried already? How do you think we've gotten to this point? Because this solution is not viable.

    Put aside for the moment Boehner's sincere desire to remain Speaker above all else. Understand there is a deep fear within upper echelons of the GOP and some in the conservative establishment of the Tea Party faction spinning off into its own orbit. There's a deep fear among Republican flunkies that there are many conservatives would easily ditch the GOP for their own scene if the could, leaving the party in a real bind when it came to try organize the party on the grassroots level state by state, county by county and precinct. A lot of that has been done over the years and various times and stages by many of these same Tea Partiers. What made the Tea Party significant was the fact a broad and independent movement sprung up which saw the party as a vehicle for its goals rather than the other way around and many cases in many states and districts imposed their will upon the party (Christine O'Donell for example).

    So to try and isolate the Tea Partiers, which would seem the thing to do if one was sincerely wishing to real an agreement, is seen as political suicide to the party leadership which wishes to contain and manipulate such Tea Partiers to their overall purpose: electing Republicans. Boehner and McConnell are only looking out for the GOP bottom line, what's in the party's best interest in these discussion. Tea Partiers have a different agenda in mind. That's what underlies this whole conflict.

  • walt on July 29, 2011 3:56 PM:

    Anything "bipartisan" will reek of a sellout to the Tea Party. That's the core issue and probably explains why it will be so difficult to get to a compromise already weighted so heavily to their demands that it's virtually a complete victory.

    Sorry to be a drone about this but this is why a president who negotiates from strength and principle is an absolute necessity for our side. Obama engaged their extortion and then conceded too much from the beginning, which emboldened the crazies to hike their demands. Yes, these people are zealots. Yes, they're, IMO, terrorists. But that's why you don't simply go into submission behavior, or think that you can co-opt them. They don't give one one damn about the deficit. They care about defeating Obama. They're Manichaeans who've arranged their vision of reality in a sharp dichotomy: good guys (them) vs bad guys (liberals and anyone who doesn't look like them). This is what watching and listening to right-wing media will do. It will make you think everything is Armageddon.

    The bitter fruit of this episode will further poison our political process and discourse. There's no recovery for a nation that mainstreams fanatics. How can they learn? We gave them almost everything they wanted. That has got to be an enormous rush.

  • zeitgeist on July 29, 2011 3:58 PM:

    it would surely mark the end of Boehner’s career

    therein lies the crux of the dilemma - sort of Boehner's Kobayashi Maru.

    there is no obvious solution that allows both (a) him to avoid harming his own country and (b) retain the gavel.

    he has to choose one, and make an unpalatable sacrifice of the other.

    bet he's glad he helped elect a bunch of foaming-at-the-mouth wingnuts.

  • Marko on July 29, 2011 3:59 PM:

    Yes, this is the best Bonehead can do: present a "compromise" from bizarro-world. As for dealing with the actual problem, he is daring Obama to take the 14th so they can bitch about that for the next 18 months.

    Helluva way to run a train. No wait, wrong euphemism. How about, "Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining!"

  • T2 on July 29, 2011 4:00 PM:

    trusting John Boner to do something 1) courageous and 2) bi-partisan is a fool's errand.
    Here's a guy who walked out on a Presidential offer of 4+ trillion cut including medicare and SocSec, in order to craft his own less than one trillion deal - rather than being called "bi-partisan" and primaried by the TeaParty, who, I may remind, only make up a small portion of the House.

  • Anonymous on July 29, 2011 4:04 PM:

    "This [Boehner assembling 25-30 sane House Republicans to combine with the House Dems and pass something reasonable] won’t happen — it would surely mark the end of Boehner’s career — but if preventing a recession is a priority, the Speaker should at least keep the numbers in mind."

    Of course, if as part of a bargain with Nancy Pelosi the Dem House caucus would agree to vote with the sane rump of Republicans to keep Boehner as speaker, he could keep his job through the end of the current Congress. He might even go down in history as a wise statesman, kind of like Everett Dirksen whose support for the Civil Rights bill proved crucial in 1964.

    Who knows, that could even mark the beginning of a political realignment that, in the 2012 elections, could mean the marginalization of the Tea Party Republicans.

    In any case, the Speaker of the House is not required to be the head of the majority party, but rather to represent the entire House of Representatives. No reason why that ancient tradition couldn't be revived now.

    Of course, this won't happen. Sanity won't prevail. We're headed for some kind of very dangerous crackup. Thank you 2010 voters.

  • Danp on July 29, 2011 4:07 PM:

    how big is the Republicans’ sane contingent?

    The question is wrong. The GOP is like a corporation. They all get funded from the same organized sources. Therefore, the real question is, "Does the GOP congress have 30-40 whistleblowers? Or will the Company admit that its products are fatal if used?"

  • Mr. Serf Man on July 29, 2011 4:08 PM:

    "...I don't think you can count on there being any sane Republicans in the House, because any who aren't foaming-at-the-mouth teabaggers are scared to death they'll face their own suicide primaries next year..."

    And lose all that lucrative Guvmint loot, private planes de-lux top o the line health care and all the graft and perks they can stuff into their pockets.

    The ruling class

  • Daniel Kim on July 29, 2011 4:10 PM:

    "The arithmetic is unforgiving."
    Arithmetic.
    That word again.
    We're doomed.

  • mcc on July 29, 2011 4:10 PM:

    Re Anonymous.

    This is something I don't really get. How does Boehner hypothetically lose his job? Is this possible in some way other than him voluntarily stepping down?

    Does the House of Representatives have something like a vote of no confidence mechanism?

  • dcsusie on July 29, 2011 4:19 PM:

    I seriously doubt that Pelosi would allow something to pass with a majority Democratic vote, even if Boehner were willing to bring such a bill to the floor. It would have to be at least 109 R with 108 Dem. And Boehner would undoubtedly be primaried from the right under these circumstances. The best hope is that some corporation will come in and offer him a multi-million dollar sinecure if he agrees to sacrifice himself to save the economy, and he makes the deal, resigns, and golfs off into the sunset.

  • Stephen on July 29, 2011 4:20 PM:

    Wikipedia lists 60 members of the House as members of the "Tea Party Caucus" and four members of the Senate.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_Party_Caucus#Members.2C_112th_Congress

    Can you find 100 "sane" congressmen out of the 180 that aren't card carrying Teabaggers ?


  • hopeless pedant on July 29, 2011 4:22 PM:

    Why are people assuming Boehner will even submit a compromise bill (or Reid's when passed) to the House? He doesn't have to - he can just let legislation die - and if he doesn't bring it up, he has the power to prevent it (he actually needs to sign off on bringing anything to a vote in the House - the Speaker has that power).

    Who's to say when and if this bill gets passed today, he just doesn't recess the House until Tuesday or Wednesday and then say, that's the only bill out there that we will pass, period.

    Yes, it would mean default - but his caucus would support him, as would right wing media.

    Why don't people think this could very well what happens? What evidence is there that he is in any position to submit anything less ridiculous than what they'll pass?

  • MBunge on July 29, 2011 4:24 PM:

    Since taking over the House, the GOP has operated on the principle that it will only pass bills that can achieve a majority with exclusively Republican votes. What reason is there to believe they'll abandon that now?

    Mike

  • Sean Scallon on July 29, 2011 4:26 PM:

    "Of course, if as part of a bargain with Nancy Pelosi the Dem House caucus would agree to vote with the sane rump of Republicans to keep Boehner as speaker, he could keep his job through the end of the current Congress. He might even go down in history as a wise statesman, kind of like Everett Dirksen whose support for the Civil Rights bill proved crucial in 1964."

    I was going to say Boehner could have decided to screw the Tea Partiers and found enough Republicans to run a coalition House with the Dems. If moderate Republicans once existed in the numbers they did back when Boehner was first elected in 1984, it might have worked. In an older time when party political organization acutal had patronage to give it might have worked. Not today. Those who joined such a coalition would be primaried and booted and they know it. The political world of Ev Dirksen is long since gone.

  • mcc on July 29, 2011 4:45 PM:

    Hopeless pedant-- there's *SOME* kind of mechanism to bring something up despite the speaker's opposition, but you need like 66% of the House to agree to it or something. It was used on the stem cell bill Bush eventually vetoed. I don't know if it can be used in time for Tuesday, though.

  • Paul (@princejvstin) on July 29, 2011 5:03 PM:

    And then what? If Boehner has learned anything from this week, it should be this: if the House is going to prevent a global economic crisis next week, the Speaker is going to need to embrace a bill that can get at least some Democratic support. There's really no way around this basic truth. The arithmetic is unforgiving.


    No he doesn't. All he has to say is, "We passed a bill. Now its their turn to pass our bill". With enough amplification from the media, the Default becomes the Democrat Party's fault.

  • thymezone on July 29, 2011 5:11 PM:

    What I don't understand is why Boehner has not already sought Dem votes. He is the Speaker of the House, not the Speaker of the Republicans. He goes to Pelosi's office and asks what she needs from him to get Dem votes. That's bipartisanship, which he talks about all the time but never seems to actually implement. What if it costs him his speakership? Does he want to be the picture next to the Wiki entry on the US Default of 2011?

  • bigtuna on July 29, 2011 5:20 PM:

    We've been over some of this, Steve. Nate Silver covered this some time ago. You allude to the problem here: A repub speaker who gets 180 dem votes and 37 repub votes for a bill is called former speaker, and that was the box Boner has been in for some time. He was oh so close to a deal with obama; but had to lie about what went down there otherwise the tpers would have his hide. That killed any so called compromise - I called it a capitulation.

    Anyway, not all of the less insane repubs fear a challenge from the right; there are a number from somewhat swing districts, who with a stauch no vote, jepordize themselves from a credible dem. challenger. If the Dems could work at getting good candidates, etc. SO there were a number of these guys in a vise: and Boner walked into this when he stopped talking some sort of sense about this issue.

  • T2 on July 29, 2011 5:28 PM:

    potential end game: Obama has said there needs to be a bipartisan bill. Boner's bill will get no Dem votes. But it will pass and go to die in the Senate. Reid's bill will come up and get, after slight massage, a few GOP supporters (one's like Kay Hutchinson who's retiring anyway). That makes it bipartisan, Obama hails it as such and says he'll sign it. It goes back to the House where all Dems vote for it and.......oh yeah...they'd need some GOPers who don't mind being primaried, probably about 2 dozen.

  • square1 on July 29, 2011 5:47 PM:

    Once again, we see the beauty of a clean bill.

    Yes, at this point, after the GOP base has been whipped into an irrational frenzy over the past few months, it would be difficult for even 20 Republicans to vote for a clean bill. And it would be difficult for Boehner to bring it to a vote.

    But in a parallel universe where Democrats stood their ground, never negotiated, and refused to tie deficit reduction to the debt limit, it is hard to see how allowing 20 "sane" Republicans to vote for raising the debt limit would have been politically costly for Boehner

    For one thing, by making a big deal about a "Grand Bargain", Obama telegraphed that he was going to claim a big political victory once it passed. Naturally, the Republicans became determined to prevent that.

    But nobody claims a clean bill as a major legislative achievement. Teabaggers might not like the idea of raising the debt limit, but they never would have become so invested in opposition if there weren't the drama of ongoing, high-level discussions that they could potentially derail.

  • cmdicely on July 29, 2011 6:24 PM:

    Why are people assuming Boehner will even submit a compromise bill (or Reid's when passed) to the House? He doesn't have to - he can just let legislation die - and if he doesn't bring it up, he has the power to prevent it (he actually needs to sign off on bringing anything to a vote in the House - the Speaker has that power).

    Measures can be brought to the floor by a majority of the members of the House signing a discharge petition; the problem is that there is at least a week's delay before that occurs.

  • exlibra on July 29, 2011 7:00 PM:

    Boner is a goner whatever he does; for him, it's the "this is bad and that's no good" situation. But the rest of them.... If they're so afraid of being primaried out, they could always decide to run as independents, while the Tea-Potties run as republicans. No primaries to be slaughtered in, and it does give another option to the sane wing of the Repub party voters (if there's still a vestige of that left)

    Masjids orepro. It's too damned hot today, to try and figure out Craptcha's cryptic utterances.

  • Anonymous on July 29, 2011 8:37 PM:

    "but if preventing a recession is a priority, the Speaker should at least keep the numbers in mind."

    "My God, man! Think of the country!" - John Boehner

  • sheba on July 30, 2011 9:17 AM:

    Interesting....

    the Republicans are afraid to compromise for fear of being "primaried" byt the TP folks.....and the professional left want to "primary" the President because he does compromise.....

    shaking my head

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