Something to Keep an Eye On


“What was the point of all that? This just shoots you in the arm! It doesn’t make breakfast at all!”

—Peter Griffin

Sausage. Rube Goldberg. Speak nothing of the breakfast machine.

FamilyGuy-BreakfastMachineThere are more elegant metaphors, but most involve some sort of mythic creatures, sci-fi awesomeness, or simply the hand of God. Oh, wait, I said mythic creatures. I don’t know, maybe we can low-bid for those witches from MacBeth.

Exhibit A: Beltway gossip.

Sen. Ted Cruz met with roughly 15 to 20 House Republicans for around two hours late Monday night at the Capitol Hill watering hole Tortilla Coast.

The group appeared to be talking strategy about how they should respond to a tentative Senate deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling without addressing Obamacare in a substantive way, according to sources who witnessed the gathering. The Texas Republican senator and many of the House Republicans in attendance had insisted on including amendments aimed at dismantling Obamacare in the continuing resolution that was intended to avert the current shutdown.

Sources said the House Republicans meeting in the basement of Tortilla Coast with Cruz were some of the most conservative in the House: Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Steve King of Iowa, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, Steve Southerland II of Florida, Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Justin Amash of Michigan.

The group is a collection of members who have often given leadership headaches in recent years by opposing both compromise measures as well as packages crafted by fellow Republicans. And, it seems, leadership unwittingly became aware of the meetup.


The appearance is obvious; Sen. Cruz is already known to be plotting against Speaker Boehner. The question at this point is what he thinks he is working toward.

Rumors of a debt ceiling deal that might also reopen the government until just before Christmas—no, really, who came up with that bright idea?—are accompanied by the prospect of the Senate attempting an untried procedural maneuver of recent devising, an effort to avoid invoking the (ahem!) “nuclear option”, in order to evade a filibuster.

The process for moving any agreement to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling could get tricky in the Senate this week.

If the House doesn’t send over what’s known as a “message” containing tax provisions, Senate leaders may have to resort to using a new, untested procedural tool.

Without unanimous consent, that process could still push the floor activity past the deadline, however.

Back in January, the Senate set up a new procedure for the 113th Congress that would allow Majority Leader Harry Reid to truncate the process of limiting debate on legislative business.

The Nevada Democrat has yet to deploy it though, because it could create new unpredictability for both Reid and his GOP counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

In short, the resolution created a way around the usual process which forces the Senate to spend days on breaking a filibuster of a motion to proceed. But it also requires Reid allows each party to offer two amendments. The agreement came about as part of the deal to avoid use of the “nuclear option” to change the Senate’s rules with a simple majority vote.


In other words, there are all manner of ways in which this could go wrong. Rachel Maddow reminded last week that the rules by which the conventional wisdom assesses this Republican faction might not be appropriate. That is, a simple presumption—they won’t really try to force a default—no longer seems so secure because this crew is not playing by the sorts of rules that make sense to Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who replaced Republican stalwart Bob Bennett, who was in turn apparently deemed not conservative enough. Don’t forget the losses, either; Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, after she knocked off Rep. Mike Castle; and Richard Mourdock, who defeated none other than the Statesman of the Senate, Richard Lugar, who was also apparently deemed not conservative enough.

And we cannot say we weren’t warned. How many of these jokers rode into Congress on a wave of chants like, “Cut it or shut it!” As long as we continue to assess this hardline uprising in the GOP by the old conventional wisdom formulae, we will continue to misunderestimate their determination to prove once and for all that government just doesn’t work.

But, no, really. This is all for fret and panic and show. They won’t really screw things up that badly, right?


Guess where the power lies in the House of Representatives right now.

A hint: It’s not Speaker Boehner. And, perhaps, a surprise: It’s not Sen. Cruz.

House Democrats are fuming about a rule change adopted by Republicans just before the government shut down on Oct. 1, arguing it shows GOP leaders closed agencies intentionally.

Under long-standing House rules, any member of the chamber can bring a measure to the floor. But Republicans altered the rule governing legislation to fund the government so that only House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) holds the power to make such a motion.

The practical effect of that change became apparent on Saturday, when Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, tried to bring the Senate-passed continuing resolution (CR) to the floor, only to be shot down.

“That motion may be offered only by the majority leader or his designee,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who was presiding over the chamber at the time.


The rule change was apparently prompted by the idea of demanding that Senate Democrats appoint members for budget conference:

Under the standing rules of the House, any member can make a “privileged” motion “to dispose of any amendment” when a “stage of disagreement” between the House and Senate “has been reached on a bill or resolution.” That privilege, though rarely used, offers a roundabout way for the minority party to force votes on the floor.

But in the last hour of Sept. 30, Republicans on the House Rules Committee altered the rule governing the CR debate so that such a motion “may be offered only by the Majority Leader or his designee.”

Explaining the change, Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) made no attempt to disguise the Republicans’ motivations. The alteration was made, he said, to prevent Democrats from bringing the Senate’s “clean” CR to the floor, just as Republicans were calling for a conference on the competing bills.

“There are rules related to privileged motions that could take place almost effective immediately, and we’re trying to go to conference,” Sessions said.

So let us be clear, please: Yes, it really is that cynical. They’re not even pretending.

Thus, while conventional wisdom might suggest our attentions turn to Speaker Boehner, it might be worth keeping an eye on Majority Leader Cantor. To the other, it is unclear how the Rules Committee reservation of privileged motions will come into play if Boehner decides to actually do his job.

Right now, tarot cards could probably better tell us what is going on in Congress.

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