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Sushi, Cheese Pizza and the House Freedom Caucus

Posted on March 3, 2015
Ted Cruz by Gage Skidmore 4.jpg

"Ted Cruz by Gage Skidmore 4" by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.



(This originally appeared in The Hill)

According to news reports, members of the House Freedom Caucus celebrated a victory over the Republican leadership last week with sushi, cheese pizza and alcoholic beverages in an office in the Cannon building.

They really know how to party, those crazy guys.

I don’t think all 52 of the Republicans who joined with Nancy Pelosi to kill the three-week continuing resolution (CR) to fund the Department of Homeland Security (the reason for the celebration) are the hardest of the hard core. Looking over the list, I see plenty of members who were worried about how their neighbors or their state’s senators voted and wanted to protect themselves against a possible primary challenge.

It’s hard to see why those celebrating were so jacked about slicing two weeks off the CR, or that their protest vote forced the House Republican leadership to work with Pelosi (D-Calif.) to keep the Department of Homeland Security funded.

But that’s the current state of the conservative movement.

At almost the precisely the same moment that the Freedom Caucus was munching on California rolls, the group’s spiritual godfather, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, admitted to the Club for Growth that his fight on ObamaCare that led to a long government shutdown in 2013 was unwinnable.

This is what he said: “Is it likely we would have altogether defunded ObamaCare then? Probably not. That would have taken an almost perfect storm. I was never Pollyannaish about the political factors it would take for that to happen.”

Last week, Cruz rankled the Senate leadership by coming out against Mitch McConnell’s strategy of separating out DHS funding from efforts to repeal portions of the president’s executive orders on immigration, after weeks of repeated votes on a House bill that combined the two had failed.

The Texas senator then voted for a procedural motion to allow the debate to move forward, while ultimately voting against the actual continuing resolution.

Cruz’s “no” vote influenced other Republican senators to also vote against the measure, especially those who are in cycle and would usually vote with the majority leader. Those votes in the Senate then influenced members of the House, making it appear that Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team are in a weaker position than they really are.

There have been all kinds of crazy rumors that both McConnell and Boehner are somehow vulnerable to a challenge. That’s nonsense, put forward by people who either have a vested interest in causing mayhem or, more likely, have no idea what they are talking about.

Both McConnell and Boehner are secure in their positions as long as they want them. The question is, why would they want them?

Keeping the Department of Homeland Security funded is an easy call, or at least should be for most people who run for office and win. The political ramifications of a terrorist attack should the Congress prove to be incapable of meeting its constitutional responsibilities would be catastrophic for whoever currently runs the legislative branch (and right now, that would be the Republicans). That should be obvious.

And that begs the question: If the GOP can’t do this, how will it deal with bigger issues like the budget, the debt limit, the “doc fix,” the Highway Trust Fund, the Export-Import Bank and the ramifications of the Supreme Court potentially invalidating a huge chunk of ObamaCare?

I am most worried about the budget, frankly. On the other issues, you can see a bipartisan majority emerge that would bail out the GOP. But with the budget, there will be no bipartisanship. There never is.

If Republicans can’t produce a budget, they won’t be able to prove they can govern. They won’t be able to move with all due haste on regular spending bills. They won’t be able to get reconciliation protection for their marquee items (perhaps a fix to ObamaCare?), and they won’t be able to keep Democrats on the defensive.

Some conservatives believe it is nonsense for the GOP to try to prove it can make the government run. They call this the “governing trap,” and they believe it is a fool’s errand for the Republicans currently in charge of the Congress to make the compromises needed to keep the federal government operational.

I imagine these same conservatives believe that defunding the DHS is a perfectly rational strategy. And I betcha they like their sushi served with a few slices of cheese pizza.