Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cromnibus compromise shows GOP is ready for primetime

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cromnibus

temporary3While some conservatives have denounced the passage of the “cromnibus,” a combination of the abbreviation for “continuing resolution” and omnibus, the passage of the annual appropriations bill is a good thing for the Republican Party and the country. It shows that most Republicans are serious about governing, and that they can work with Democrats to find common ground for the good of the country. Since the new Republican congressional class has not yet taken office, the cromnibus compromise should be viewed as the last hurrah of Harry Reid’s (D-NV) Democratic Senate rather than a bill that sets the tone on policy for the incoming Republican majority.

Déjà vu all over again

Many conservatives opposed the cromnibus because they saw it as an opportunity to defund President Obama’s executive amnesty. Others wanted to begin the process of cutting government spending after the huge success in this year’s elections. The problem with these strategies is the same problem that led to the defeat of the Obamacare defunding attempt; Harry Reid’s Senate will not pass such a bill.

A showdown over the cromnibus would have had the same result as the disastrous attempt to defund Obamacare last year. The government shutdown that resulted from the defunding attempt was overwhelmingly blamed on Republicans and it cost the party dearly in terms of approval ratings. The Republican success in November was not due to their role in the shutdown; it was in spite of it. The Democratic collapse on issues ranging from Obamacare to the economy to foreign policy was the driver for the midterm elections.

The fact that another government shutdown would have been a bad idea for Republicans is underscored by two facts. First, the combative Republican candidates who challenged GOP incumbents in primaries lost. In several cases, they lost by slim margins, but Republican voters clearly rejected the shut-it-down, take-no-prisoners mentality of the Senate Conservatives Fund. Second, a Gallup poll from just before the election confirms that American voters want their congressional representatives to get things done, not stand in the way. A McClatchy-Marist poll released December 16 found that 70 percent of voters want the parties to compromise. Only 26 percent favor a stand that might lead to a government shutdown.

Bitter pills for Democrats

The cromnibus may not have been popular with conservatives, but that doesn’t mean that the Republicans didn’t gain from it. The American Spectator noted that “Republicans came out on top” in the negotiations. Provisions in the bill that conservatives should applaud include:

· Higher limits on political donations, a roll back of campaign finance reform laws

· Repeal of some Dodd-Frank restrictions on banks

· Exemption of farm ponds and irrigation ditches from EPA regulation under the Clean Water Act

· Repeal of EPA regulations that count cattle farts as greenhouse gases

· Extension of the federal moratorium on internet taxes

· Delay of enforcement of federal light bulb restrictions

· Ban on use of tax money to bail out insurance companies for Obamacare losses

· A $346 million dollar cut to the IRS budget

· Relaxation of the school lunch standards favored by Michelle Obama

Laying groundwork for the amnesty battle

Some conservatives have complained about the fact that the cromnibus extends most of the government funding through the end of the fiscal year in September, but this criticism is misplaced as well. Federal budgets, normally an annual matter, have rarely been passed in the Obama era. Funding the government through the end of the year will give lawmakers time to properly address and negotiate the 2016 budget, rather than spending their first few months dealing with matters that should have been handled last year.
The budget for the Department of Homeland Security is the exception. The budget for the DHS, the agency tasked with implementing President Obama’s executive amnesty, is only funded through February according to Forbes’ analysis of the bill. The DHS budget will be where the battle over Obama’s actions takes place early next year. Republicans will have the advantage of a majority in both houses of Congress at that point.

No Cruz control

The cromnibus vote gives an indication of the ability of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to assemble a working bipartisan majority on at least some issues. This will allow some of the more independent Republicans to defect on certain issues - perhaps immigration, for instance – without killing the entire bill.

Cobbling together a majority will be even easier in the next term because the incoming GOP freshmen are unlikely to join the rogue faction led by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT). The Washington Examiner reported in November that the new senators had broad support from the various factions of the Republican Party and called them “political hybrids,” while Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the incoming majority leader, said, “The vast majority of them don’t feel they were sent to Washington to just fight all the time.” The Tea Party conservatives, most of who lost in the primaries, would have been much more likely to follow Cruz’s lead.

The cromnibus has also shown that when Cruz and company split from the rest of the Republicans, Democrats may be willing to cross the aisle. As Obama’s agenda becomes less popular, more and more Democrats may be willing to go their separate ways from the president. This was evident in the cromnibus votes as Elizabeth Warren, the progressive left’s new standard bearer, led a faction to oppose the compromise supported by President Obama.

Meeting in the middle

Even if Cruz and his allies stand with the rest of the GOP, it will be necessary to court disaffected and vulnerable Democrats. As the Republicans advance their agenda, it is likely that President Obama will veto much of their legislation. The new Republican caucus can pass bills, but falls short of the 67 votes needed to override a presidential veto. Compromise with Democrats will be necessary to enact many major reforms, including but not limited to repealing and replacing Obamacare.

The biggest boon to the Republican Party may be that the cromnibus shows that the party is mature enough to build a bipartisan majority that can get things done. In the House, a majority of Democrats opposed the bill although a many voted in favor. In the Senate, the bill passed with a majority of both parties. This was in spite of strong opposition from both the Cruz and Warren wings of their respective parties. In essence, the two parties met in the middle to form a workable consensus.

As long as the Republicans are able to work with moderate Democrats to find a consensus, they will be able to advance at least part of their agenda. While repealing Obamacare is probably not in the cards, repealing particularly odious part of it, such as the medical device tax and the individual mandate, might be. There are many examples of such low-hanging fruit where Republicans and Democrats can find common ground for the good of the country. Showing that Congress can function again will, in turn, help Republicans in 2016.


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