Members Only | December 29, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Suddenly, the Republicans want a piece of the action
The party of no seems to be rethinking the utility of no.
Before last week’s successful vote for the omnibus spending bill, which will keep the government running through September, there was a bit of concern that it might not exceed the necessary 60-vote threshold in the Senate. In the end, 18 Republicans voted for it.
There was no doubt about its passage in the House. (Legislation there needs a simple majority; the Democrats still had that during the lame duck session.) Even so, nine House Republicans voted for it.
Those who voted no, like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, still reaped the benefits of the nearly $2 trillion spending bill. The congresswoman asked for and got an earmark worth $20 million.
Most of the rest of the funds earmarked by opponents of the omnibus spending bill, about $2.8 billion, according to Roll Call, were co-sponsored or sponsored by 110 House Republicans. The Senate’s Bill Cassidy, Thom Tillis and Cynthia Hyde-Smith also voted no, but asked for and received earmarks to the tune of $391 million.
OK, why am I bringing this up?
A piece of the action
It seems to me that the vote for the omnibus bill revealed a desire among a goodly number of Republicans to bring home the bacon.
That’s worth pondering.
During the Obama years, everything the Republicans did was in opposition to the Democrats, even if the Democrats were bringing to the floor legislation the Republicans previously supported. If the result was no bacon, well, so be it. (The Republicans spearheaded the effort to deep-six earmarks. The Democrats revived them last year.)
Biden’s tenure began with some resistance, but Mitch McConnell hasn’t been as committed, when it comes to spending, as he was during the Obama years. (The Senate minority leader said in 2010 that the top GOP goal was making Obama a one-term president.) For the omnibus vote, he was downright wishy-washy. He said voting for it was a good idea but could imagine waiting till the next congress.
Kevin McCarthy, who is vying to become the next speaker, vowed to kill off future bills supported by Senate Republicans who voted for the omnibus. He said that while knowing full well that 110 House Republicans would bring home the bacon after the bill’s passage.
Some Senate Republicans blamed McConnell for poor leadership. Utah’s Mike Lee wanted to punt the omnibus into next year after a Republican House is sworn in. But then 18 of his colleagues voted for it. “Our party leadership turned on Republican voters, turned on the Republican base, turned on most Republican senators,” Lee said.
Not really, though. Mitch McConnell didn’t do anything 18 Senators didn’t want. He didn’t do anything 110 House Republicans didn’t want.
They all wanted a piece of the action.
No longer believable
But why now? What makes this time different?
A possible answer arises from the midterms.
The Republicans expected to perform better among independent voters. According to the AP, they won 38 percent of indies in 2022. The Democrats, in contrast, won 51 percent in 2018. The party accustomed to enjoying a backlash didn’t enjoy one this time. They lost indies in this year’s midterm by two stunning percentage points.
The AP report goes on to suggest that indie voters broke this time for the Democrats, because the Republicans’ campaigns were almost entirely negative. They attempted to yoke Democratic candidates to inflation, gas prices and Joe Biden’s soft job approval numbers. While the Republicans were good at spelling out problems facing the country, according to the AP, they didn’t spell out solutions.
“You’ve got to tell them what you’re going to do,” David Winston, a GOP pollster, told the AP. “Somehow the Republican campaigns managed not to do that. And that’s a real serious problem.”
Barack Obama and the Democrats had solutions galore during the 2010 midterms, but their problem-solving prowess did not prevent their “shellacking.” Indies this year didn’t blame Biden for inflation and high prices, according to the AP. It’s hard to imagine America’s first Black president getting that degree of the benefit of the doubt.
Indies just didn’t believe him.
Then again, Obama presided over an economy teetering on the fixtures of “neoliberalism,” which is to say, on tax cuts, deregulation and minimal “intervention” by the state. The pandemic changed that. At its peak, the US government floated more than 70 percent of payrolls. By the time Biden said more could be done to juice the economy, voters were already primed for more “Big Government.”
Once indie voters – or “respectable white people” – saw that active government could improve their lives, not just other people’s lives, the GOP’s anti-government rhetoric probably sounded old, even archaic.
So I don’t think indies broke for the Democrats because the Democrats had solutions. They broke for the Democrats, because, unlike in 2010, indie voters no longer believed the Republicans.
Thinking up something new
In his bid for the speakership, Kevin McCarthy is pandering to the party’s extreme right, that is, members of his conference who apparently don’t care about bringing home the bacon. The point of their existence isn’t getting a piece of the action. It’s saying no.
If that sounds like something a dozen years old, that’s because it is.
Meanwhile, other Republicans, especially in the Senate, even Mitch McConnell, the “gravedigger of democracy,” seem to understand that the times are a-changin’. Lying about the Democrats while trusting indie voters to trust them – that combo isn’t working anymore. The party of no must rethink the utility of no. No works if it results in Democratic defeat. No doesn’t work if it defeats the party of no.
Thinking up something new is going to take time, though.
Until then, the Republicans had to get a piece of the action.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.