John Bolton

John Bolton

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Opportunity for Tradeoff in Debt Ceiling Increase Squandered by Tea Party Inflexibility on Vote

If you follow an all or nothing strategy you usually end up with nothing!

I was very disappointed that both Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-KY) both caved on efforts to exact a compromise from Obama for a debt ceiling increase. I had hoped that attaching approval of the Keystone pipeline would force Obama to accept this worthy and environmentally safe project and help create tens of thousands of new good paying jobs for Americans.

But Tea Party Republicans in the House refused to vote for ANY increase in the debt ceiling. Had Speaker Boehner brought up a debt ceiling increase that included Keystone House Democrats and Tea Party Republicans would have voted it down thus weakening political support for the pipeline. Without majority GOP support for any alternative to a clean bill (debt increase only) Boehner was left with no option than to allow a clean bill to come to a vote where it got majority Dem support and only a handful of GOP votes.

It's doubly disappointing because the debt ceiling increase was supposed to be the fight worth fighting. Only a few months ago when Ted Cruz waged his battle against ObamaCare GOP leaders were instructing members to keep their powder dry and save it for a fight over the debt increase. But without flexibility on the part of GOP members, and lacking the unity necessary for an alternative there was no choice. It is unthinkable that the Speaker would have simply refused any vote on a debt increase. Such a path is not one that is winnable in any sense of the word.

The same goes for Sen. Mitch McConnell who put his own political future on the line and cast the magic vote in the Senate for approval. Quin Hilyer writing at National Review concludes:
To conservatives, McConnell’s vote felt like another in a series of punches to the kidney. But it wasn’t a cowardly vote; it was a courageous one. Sometimes courage can be misguided or even foolhardy, but that doesn’t make it any less courageous. Conservatives might think he is the wrong leader for Senate Republicans. We must, however, acknowledge that he did show leadership, and in doing so, afford him at least a grumbling form of respect.
Another government shutdown, with the GOP forced to give in after being pummeled for days would risk efforts to retake the Senate in November.

I'm reminded of Tea Party candidates who represented something of a conservative ideal but whose other qualities meant that they could not win a general election. Christine O'Donnell in Delaware leaps to mind. Instead of the almost sure election of RINO Republican Mike Castle, the primary victory of O'Donnell paved the way for the very liberal Democrat Chris Coons who is now enshrined in that seat. Had the Tea Party been willing to compromise and accept Castle we would be one seat closer to taking control of the Senate where we would have more flexibility to counter Obama.

Had the House Tea Party Republicans been more flexible with the debt ceiling we might have had the leverage to win approval for Keystone. In the end, the debt ceiling was increased anyway and we have nothing to show for it!

Until the happy day arrives when we have a conservative governing majority in both houses of Congress we have to keep our tactics and strategy flexible to make the most of the limited power we do have. That's not something some on the right want to hear but it's better to get something rather than nothing!

UPDATE: Writing at National Review Charles C.W. Cooke goes into the problem of GOP opposition in detail. His conclusion is that we would lose both a fight over the debt ceiling and the Senate if we persisted. It's a bitter pill to swallow but true. Cooke reminds us how difficult it is to " play offense from a position of weakness. " Gaining the Senate is the best way to strengthen our hand and anything that puts that at risk is not worth it.

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