Chapman’s News & Ideas Advanced Sausage Making in Congress

The US House’s passage tonight of the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus” bill to fund the government for nine months had bi-partisan support. But it saw defections from some conservative Republicans and a huge Democratic break from the White House (which had helped negotiate the bill with Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid). Nancy Pelosi, who had been on board, wound up attacking the bill, calling it “blackmail”.

Now a fascinating drama is developing in the Senate. Ted Cruz gets maybe seven or so Republicans against the bill while Mitch McConnell gets 38 or so GOP votes for it. But the real story is on the Democratic side. The GOP in Congress is more conservative than in years gone by, but the Democrats are far more liberal, too. So how many votes does the articulate progressive hope Elizabeth Warren get versus Harry Reid?

Consider: if Reid wins, the far left of the party becomes bitter. Warren grows in the esteem of the rank and file of the Democratic base. But if Warren somehow prevails, the “deal” probably evaporates before the vote is even taken, and excuses have to be made by Obama and Reid on why the bill they helped craft is now a bad one. Congress goes home, as the “shutdown” occurs over Christmas. But, like I said, in that case, it clearly would be the Democrats causing the shutdown, which would be embarrassing for the President. Of course, one should never underestimate the desire of the companionable media (NPR, the networks, the New York Times) to save the Democrats’ reputation through some slight of hand. One amusing possibility is that the Administration finds that a “shutdown” doesn’t mean, you know, a shutdown in any real sense.

It’s hard to know what are all the avenues, byways and narrow passages in the bill as it goes on to likely Senate adoption. What is clear is that the Republican leaders thought it was the best deal they could make before they take over the Senate in a month.

Bill Buckley offered the judgement that conservatives in primaries should back the most conservative candidate who can win. Good advice. The corollary is the effective judgement of the current Congressional GOP leadership that the party should support the most conservative legislation that is possible. Ronald Reagan certainly understood both principles.

It is hard to know what all transpired and what motivated various member of the House. What is clear to me is that one of McConnell’s highest priorities long has been real campaign finance reform. An important part of that is that the parties need to be strengthened so that individuals can donate much larger sums of money than are allowed now (10 times as much, reportedly, in the bill passed tonight). That will add to accountability. Both parties’ leaders backed that in the current bill. Why? For one thing, it means that ordinary people will improve party grass roots prowess, while there will be relatively less power for non-party groups funded by billionaire conservatives or liberals. And the money given to parties has to be better reported to the public.

Democrats probably have noticed recent polls that show that a majority of millionaires expect to support Hillary for President. If so, they may figure, why not give them the chance to support her through the Democratic Party directly? On the other hand, Republicans may sense a changing of the political mood and are anticipating the reality of two years from now, not today, and see a big financial upside for them.

Given all this, whatever else it is, the House vote is a victory for campaign reform. It is a disgrace that Fred Wertheimer and other supposed “reformers” opposed it.

Now for the Senate drama.