A couple of pieces in the Times over the weekend put the current farce in context. No doubt there’s more reporting to come, as some of the players have yet to settle on how they’ll spin the narrative.
The first, on Saturday, includes details that shine light on the “why can’t they compromise” question:
“Mr. Reid said in an interview in his office on Friday that Mr. Boehner came to him at the end of July with a proposition: If Senate Democratic leaders could accept a stopgap spending measure in the fall at levels that reflected across-the-board spending cuts, the speaker would refrain from adding extraneous measures that could precipitate a clash. Mr. Reid was leery, since that level — $988 billion in discretionary spending for the 2014 fiscal year — would be $70 billion less than the Senate-passed budget.”
“On Sept. 12, in a meeting of the top four Congressional leaders, Mr. Boehner said he was running into problems with a conservative groundswell demanding that a gutting of the health law accompany any spending measure. Mr. Reid and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, suggested a procedural step that would allow the House to vote on a stopgap spending bill with a side provision removing funds from the health care law that the Senate could strip out before sending the spending measure to the president.
“Again, the speaker agreed. And again, he could not carry through, Mr. Reid said.”
So the Democrats compromised with Boehner on spending, which is what any budget resolution should be about, and Boehner couldn’t hold up his end of the deal. Why compromise again with someone who can’t control his caucus?
The second story, on Sunday, shows how Boehner lost control of his caucus. The shutdown has been in the works for months, and it hasn’t been Boehner or Mitch McConnell calling the shots. It’s been Ted Cruz, Jim DeMint, Ed Meese and the Koch Brothers:
“The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.
“The groups have also sought to pressure vulnerable Republican members of Congress with scorecards keeping track of their health care votes; have burned faux “Obamacare cards” on college campuses; and have distributed scripts for phone calls to Congressional offices, sample letters to editors and Twitter and Facebook offerings for followers to present as their own.
“One sample Twitter offering — “Obamacare is a train wreck” — is a common refrain for Speaker John A. Boehner.”
“As the defunding movement picked up steam among outside advocates, Republicans who sounded tepid became targets. The Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee dedicated to “electing true conservatives,” ran radio advertisements against three Republican incumbents.
“Heritage Action ran critical Internet advertisements in the districts of 100 Republican lawmakers who had failed to sign a letter by a North Carolina freshman, Representative Mark Meadows, urging Mr. Boehner to take up the defunding cause.
“They’ve been hugely influential,” said David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “When else in our history has a freshman member of Congress from North Carolina been able to round up a gang of 80 that’s essentially ground the government to a halt?”
When shots rang out outside the Capitol last week, a friend cracked that it must be the Republicans’ circular firing squad. It wasn’t, but the sniping on the Right has barely begun.