A Complete Timeline Of Republican Obstructionism On Budget Negotiations They Are Now Demanding (Part 2)
This is the second part of a two-part article. The first installment, which covered January to May of 2013, ran yesterday. Normally I'm not daunted by extended column length, but when I searched on "conference committee" in a database of news articles, there was such a wealth of quotes to choose from that even I was forced to decide it was too much for one day.
Today we start in June and bring the timeline of Republican obstructionism on the budget negotiations they are now loudly demanding right up to the present. Both of these articles are provided as a public service, in the hopes that the mainstream media won't continue to completely ignore what happened previously during 2013, when discussing the current situation in Washington.
[Note: these articles were retrieved from a site with a paywall, apologies for not providing links. And, as with yesterday's column, Alex Seitz-Wald at the National Journal put all 19 times Senate Republicans blocked naming a conference committee into a handy list, which this timeline uses as a source for the Senate data.]
June 4 -- Senator Murray requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Rubio blocks this request.
June 12 -- Senator Kaine requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Lee blocks this request.
June 13 -- Los Angeles Times, "Boxer's bill takes aim at debt limit"
As Congress readied for a new battle over raising the debt limit, Sen. Barbara Boxer announced legislation that would prevent lawmakers from being paid if they do not increase the nation's borrowing authority.
"It is an American value to pay your bills. It's also an American value to do your job," Boxer (D-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday. "If we as members of Congress refuse to pay the bills we have incurred, we should not be paid our salaries."
Boxer announced the legislation along with the lead House sponsor, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.). It is modeled on legislation enacted in January that denied salaries to members of Congress if their chamber did not pass an annual budget.
It's unlikely the Republican-controlled House would pass the proposed Pay Your Bills or Lose Your Pay Act given the opposition by many in the GOP to increasing the debt limit.
But the unveiling of the bill helped set the stage for political maneuvering in coming weeks in the contentious debate as Obama administration officials have begun meeting with lawmakers to start working on a deal.
June 19 -- Senator Murray requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Toomey blocks this request.
June 26 -- Senator Murray requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Cruz blocks this request.
July 8 -- Christian Science Monitor, "Congress's summer 'to do' list not too taxing. What tops it?"
[After discussing student loans, confirmations, the farm bill, and immigration reform in both the House and the Senate, the article ends:]
What's not on either body's agenda?
Negotiations to fix the ongoing budget impasse, for one.
Although both chambers passed budgets more than three months ago, Republicans are blocking a path to a conference committee that would allow the two chambers to reconcile their considerable budgetary differences. Some of the Senate's most conservative members are blocking the quickest route to naming budget negotiators, in a bid to extract a promise from their colleagues that an increase in the federal debt ceiling won't be allowed to occur in the context of a budget deal. (The US government will likely hit the debt ceiling sometime in October, according to government budget watchers.)
The Senate needs a simple majority -- 51 votes -- to OK the outcome of a budget conference, and that is making Senate conservatives uneasy that their friends in the House may cut a deal they don't like.
With the Senate conservative clique blocking the way, House Republicans have also not pushed to move to conference committee, even as House Democrats put up a slate of lawmakers they would like to send into negotiations with the Senate.
. . .
In short, despite a few bipartisan steps forward, the current Congress is on pace to shatter even last session's record for futility.
July 11 -- Senator Murray requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Rubio blocks this request.
July 12 -- New York Times, "In the House, a Refusal to Govern"
On two crucial issues this week, the extremists who dominate the Republican majority in the House of Representatives made it clear how little interest they have in the future prosperity of their country, or its reputation for fairness and decency.
[discussion of immigration and farm bill cut from here]
Few things sum up the attitude of the current crop of Republicans in Washington than their loathing of conference committees. On issue after issue, they have passed radical bills and then refused to negotiate. On Thursday, for example, Senate Republicans refused for the 16th time to allow the Democratic Senate budget to be negotiated with its dangerously stingy counterpart in the House.
. . .
A refusal to even to sit at a bargaining table is another way of refusing to govern. The nation's founders created two chambers for a reason, but Republicans, in their blind fury to harm the least fortunate, are forgetting even those fundamental national values.
July 17 -- Senator Murray requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Lee blocks this request.
July 25 -- Washington Post, "Decidedly dysfunctional House pressures Veterans Affairs leaders to be more productive"
[First half of article discusses Veterans Affairs bill, then ends with:]
Citing a report by Brookings and the American Enterprise Institute, my colleague Chris Cillizza wrote last week that "the 112th Congress (2011-2013) got less done than any Congress in more than six decades."
A recent Huffington Post headline also tells the story: "113th Congress on Pace to be Least Productive in Modern History." The article, updated on July 11, said that "the current Congress has had just 15 bills signed into law so far, the fewest in recent history."
That has real ramifications for the government and its staffers, but apparently it's fine with the top man in the House, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). "[W] e should not be judged on how many new laws we create," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "We ought to be judged on how many laws that we repeal."
Republicans are even refusing to cooperate on a new budget, which directly affects federal agencies, their workplaces and employees. The Senate and the House have approved separate spending plans, but Republicans refuse to agree to a conference committee that would work out differences in the bills.
"We have called upon the speaker of the House to appoint conferees to negotiate on the budget," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told his colleagues Tuesday. "He has refused."
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, unconvincingly placed the blame for no House conferees on Senate Democrats. The usual practice, he said, is for "the House and Senate Budget committee leaders to come to an agreement on a framework before formally appointing conferees. . . . It is difficult, obviously, to reach such an agreement when the Senate Democrats' budget never, ever balances."
Federal employees, more than the average citizen, know from experience that is more than just another political gambit. No budget means uncertainty - uncertainty for employees and uncertainty for their ability to serve the public.
"By not going to budget conference - let's be clear," Van Hollen said. Republicans "want to take us right up to the cliff of government shutdown in the beginning of October, next fiscal year. They're talking about once again rolling the dice and playing a game of chicken as to whether or not the United States pays its bills on time.
"That is no way for the federal government to conduct itself."
August 1 -- Senator Durbin requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Rubio blocks this request.
Congress, as usual, then takes the entire month of August off on vacation. After all, it's not like there is any unfinished business with looming deadlines or anything, right?
August 3 -- New York Times, "The Girls Of Summer"
Under [Sen. Mitch] McConnell's argument, which he made with approximately the same amount of passion one would use to lace a shoe, the nation would spend August in an uproar about the Senate's failure to live up to the spirit of a crazy deal that was cobbled together two years ago to keep the nation from crashing through the debt ceiling. No one would have the heart to barbecue.
Actually, the commitment Congress is supposed to be following is its own budget plan. The Senate and House each have one. The House version is very austere, and this week the members got a chance to start putting it in action with -- yes! -- a transportation bill. Once they got a look how their principled stand against spending translated into real life, they recoiled in horror and their leaders yanked it off the agenda.
In a normal world, the House and Senate would get together in a conference committee to work out a joint budget deal. This year, the Senate Republicans keep vetoing that. So, on Thursday, just before the senators left for the airport, [Sen. Patty] Murray asked her leadership to once again request a conference.
''They're going to object,'' she predicted. ''And it'll be a guy who'll be saying no, by the way.''
She was right.
August 29 -- Washington Post, "As debt limit nears, GOP prepares to pick its battle"
House Speaker John A. Boehner is promising a "whale of a fight" this fall. But a fight over what? That is the $16.7 trillion question as Congress barrels toward another showdown over the federal debt limit.
House Republicans are trying to figure out how to finesse the deadlines looming after lawmakers return to Washington on Sept. 9. Unless Congress acts, the federal government will shut down on Oct. 1 and, according to the Obama administration, the nation will run out of cash to pay its bills in mid-October.
Boehner (R-Ohio) has proposed a short-term budget bill to keep the government open into the new fiscal year with relatively little fuss. But during a speech in Boise, Idaho, on Monday, he said House Republicans will draw a line in the sand over lifting the federal debt limit, demanding spending "cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit."
"I wish I could tell you it was going to be pretty and polite and it would all be finished a month before we'd ever get to the debt ceiling. Sorry - it just doesn't work that way," Boehner said, predicting a repeat of the debt-limit fight of 2011, which tanked consumer confidence, along with the GOP's approval ratings.
"What I'm trying to do here," he said in remarks reported by the Idaho Statesman newspaper, "is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices."
What kind of change? Senior Republican aides say it is becoming clear that Boehner will have to launch a concerted assault on the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature health-insurance initiative. The Heritage Foundation, the Club for Growth and other conservative groups are demanding a full-on attempt to defund the law, and at least 80 House Republicans have signed on.
GOP leaders are resisting. Instead, talks have focused on options such as delaying the requirement that individuals purchase health insurance, which is set to take effect in January; repealing a new tax on medical devices that helps fund the law; and codifying Obama's decision to delay penalties on employers who fail to offer insurance to workers.
. . .
Of course, a one-year delay in imposing the mandate would save a fraction of that amount [$300 billion over the next decade]. And no mathematical calculation would help with the politics of such a holdup. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has called the idea "insane." And White House budget director Sylvia Mathews Burwell last week told Bloomberg TV that the administration is "not interested at all in delaying what we believe is bringing people onto health care and continuing a path of reducing [health] costs."
Where does that leave things? Probably with the Senate, where a group of Republicans known as "the Diners Club" is scheduled to meet this week with White House officials. But those talks have been going nowhere, according to people on both sides of the table, and senior GOP aides say Reid and Senate Democrats might have to pass a debt-limit plan on their own.
Theoretically, that could throw the whole mess into a House-Senate conference committee for resolution. But with no clear path through the thicket, some Hill aides are grimly bracing for a series of bills to buy time by raising or suspending the debt limit for brief periods throughout the fall.
Democrats are accusing the GOP of fomenting another unnecessary political crisis.
"The last thing families and businesses across America want right now is another round of debt limit brinksmanship that would rattle the markets and threaten our fragile economic recovery," Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a statement.
In September, the House schedules only nine working days, for the entire month. After all, it's not like there is any unfinished business with deadlines looming, right?
At the end of September, the Republicans tried three times to pass budget bills which "defunded" or "delayed" Obamacare. The Senate voted them down, one by one. The House Republicans' last-ditch attempt included agreeing -- after refusing to do so all year -- to form a conference committee with the Senate to work out a budget agreement. Democrats, quite rightly, pointed out that Republicans had been the ones blocking such a committee all year long, although the media largely misses this key point.
October 2 -- Senator Murray requests unanimous consent for naming a conference committee on the budget. Senator Toomey blocks this request.
Which brings us up to date. The Republicans have now made the conference committee the centerpiece of their hostage demand. They have apparently declared defeat on Obamacare within their caucus (although this hasn't really been confirmed -- but you sure do hear less Obamacare talk from Republicans this week compared to last week, don't you?). They have now pivoted to loudly demanding that President Obama and the Democrats "negotiate" or "have a conversation with us."
The record, however, is clear. It's right there, for anyone to access. Someone deep in the bowels of the mainstream media could find this record by doing a simple search on keywords such as "conference committee" and "Republican." It's not exactly rocket science, folks.
But since I did my own searching and saw how extensive this record is -- and how little of it is now appearing in the media -- I thought it would be worthwhile to compile a definitive list which tracked the history of the Republicans' refusal to negotiate all year long. In mid-April, Republicans pivoted from their years-long strategy of demanding Congress follow "regular order" to instead demanding the exact opposite -- that regular order should be blocked indefinitely because those darned conference committees just can't be trusted. Paul Ryan was at the center of this pivot, when -- less than a week after making a joint statement with Patty Murray calling for a conference committee -- he told reporters that "House Republicans have no plans to appoint a conference committee to hammer out a budget deal with Senate Democrats." Senate Republicans (including the leadership) went along with this partisan tactic, albeit much more quietly (since a single senator can block a motion for unanimous consent).
Senate Democrats have been blocked from forming a conference committee 19 times, by Senators McConnell (5 times), Rubio (4), Lee (4), Toomey (3), Cruz (2), and Paul (1). House Republicans were afraid Senate Republicans would cut a deal, and Senate Republicans were afraid House Republicans would cut a deal. The entire thing is a struggle for control within the Republican Party, in fact.
This is the record. Republicans in both houses of Congress have been actively blocking -- for all of 2013 -- the creation of a conference committee. This is the background to use whenever someone like John Boehner says to a reporter "President Obama needs to sit down and negotiate."
To put it as bluntly as humanly possible: Democrats have been trying to negotiate all year long. Republicans have been obstructing negotiations -- in both the House and the Senate -- all year long. Republican leadership has enabled this obstructionism, and indeed taken an active part. For them to call for Obama and the Democrats to enter negotiations now, and somehow insinuate that they've been trying to negotiate with Democrats for a long time is nothing short of the sheerest hypocritical political bunkum. It is the exact opposite of what actually happened. It is nothing short of a big fat lie.
That is the true record.
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant