Countermajoritarianism defined the week, as it has this Congress. House leadership unveiled an unserious debt limit proposal designed to hold their factions together while they hope Dems make an unforced error. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, stand athwart majority rule in the Judiciary Committee.
Senate Democrats can reclaim their power, but only if they stick together and only if they’re willing to replace rules created for antimajoritarian purposes long enough ago that we now call them norms. As for the House, little will change under the current majority until members believe their re-elections are imperiled more by intransigence than cooperation.
This week both chambers are in session Tuesday through Friday. A vote is scheduled on the debt limit bill on Wednesday, which is proceeding sans regular order.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will review the budget request of the Sergeant at Arms and the US Capitol Police on Tuesday. Wednesday, the Modernization Subcommittee of CHA examines the topic of modernizing CRS. On Thursday, the House Judiciary committee will hold its first hearing on section 702 of FISA.
The CRS hearing on Wednesday revisits an issue last addressed by the House Administration Committee four years ago: has CRS modernized to meet its mission? From where we sit, there hasn’t been much improvement in the last four years… or the last 20, and the high turnover rates and misaligned work products point to significant management problems. Don’t get me wrong, we love our former colleagues at CRS — those that are left — but it’s time to reform that agency and reconsider how support agencies collaborate to support Congress.
If you missed Friday’s event on Congress and AI, don’t worry, we’ll have video and slides by next week. Thanks to our partners at POPVOX and the Lincoln Network for co-hosting the event. (POPVOX did all the heavy lifting.)
NO FIGHTING IN THE WAR ROOM
Since before the last election, antistateist conservatives in the House GOP have sought to maximize their own power in both policy and process. They demanded the highly-aggressive political tactic of preventing a reset of the debt ceiling threshold unless everyone agrees to enact their entire legislative agenda in one fell swoop, pushing aside regular order in the “process.”
Note the irony: the previously marginalized MAGA faction used the rules of the Constitution, the House, and the Republican caucus to obtain a share of power — veto power — and now that they have it, they have abandoned regular order to pursue a maximalist agenda. That legislative agenda — all of it — is crammed into a single bill. It’s rule by defaultocracy. And it is happening without a single committee hearing. Without a single markup. Just secretive negotiations among the Republican five families that hot-dropped the whole enchilada in the chute direct to the Rules Committee.
It’s a true tip-of-the-hat from MAGA-and-friends to former Speaker Pelosi, who in her most iron-fisted moments never included all of her priorities in a single bill and held the full faith and credit of the United States hostage to move it forward. So long as McCarthy prefers to be Speaker over setting policy, that faction within the Republican House will retain their chokehold on power.
Those within the Republican party that disagree with elements of that agenda will stifle themselves out of fear of losing their next election. That’s how power works. Anyone who believes in the norms fairy will always get the short end of the stick. The players respond to incentives, which is another way of saying they’re shaped by the institutional rules, and the rules inside both chambers give a reactionary faction veto power. In this case, Republicans are apparently willing to allow a debt ceiling breach to occur to get their way. Anyone who tries a different path would risk massive retaliation, including the loss of their seat.
Republicans are counting on the press to treat this as a #bothsides issue. Specifically, they will point to a supposed-good faith negotiation effort that’s being unceremoniously ignored by President Biden and the Senate. This view will be validated by the Problem Solvers Caucus and the political press. It’s also the only play open to McCarthy if he wants to keep his office.
Democrats in the Senate will be squeezed both by Senate Republican unwillingness to undercut their House counterparts — many are just as afraid of drawing primary challengers — and because the Democratic coalition is predicated upon the support of a few senators that prefer the rules of the game to be rigged for an antimajoritarian coalition, in part because it’s helpful for their elections.
Republicans will move forward with a bill most of them wouldn’t want to become law, and will defend it because they want to avoid a primary challenge. When senators and the White House refuse to consider those measures, both because of their substance and the procedural posture of negotiating over the debt ceiling, they will be responding to their own political incentives. I fear that everyone will be willing to risk economic collapse to see what the political fallout will be.
As an institutionalist, I hate to say it, but this entire political fiasco almost certainly will require action from the Executive branch to avert financial armageddon. The only lawful mechanism available appears to be the trillion dollar coin. It’s best to use it sooner, when its unproven legal status will be less destabilizing than later. In a defaultocracy, the way out is through the ability to coin money.
We could talk about the substance with you. About how the $131 billion figure, and the three-odd trillion dollars saved, would be inconsequential in the context of the federal deficit and debt. Or that this is about income redistribution to the wealthy. Or that restoring some taxation would be a much better policy. Or, as Matt Glassman reminds us, CBO regularly updates an options guide on addressing spending. But none of this matters because it’s all about how factional dynamics are amplified within the two-party system rules that exist in both chambers.
Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for April 24, 2023: Norms and power”