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The 2016 Paul Ryan game plan: Ceremonial votes

Conservative Review

When I was a little kid I found it empowering and exhilarating to run around the bases of the empty baseball field after a Little League game and imagine myself hitting a home run.  This is the sort of fantasy achievement we can expect from congressional Republicans this year.  Now that they’ve lost the game and allowed Democrats to pitch a shutout, they will take a lot of ceremonial votes and jogs around the bases for the benefit of that ever-dwindling number of people still paying attention.

With the Senate out this week, the House will complete action on the Senate budget reconciliation bill (Senate amendments to HR 3762).  You will hear much anticipation and pomp from GOP leadership about repealing Obamacare and defunding Planned Parenthood in that piece of legislation.  But it won’t matter.  Ever since winning back the House in 2011, Republicans have continuously funded every aspect of Planned Parenthood and Obamacare, most recently through December’s omnibus bill.  Also, now that they’ve repealed some of the Obamacare taxes, it will make it even harder to marshal the support of K Street to repeal the main part of the law when Republicans actually have the power to do so under a conservative president.

Watch for House Republicans to deflect anger from last year’s capitulations by passing several other standalone messaging bills.  Presumably, if pressure mounts they will pass another refugee bill, but it most certainly will not be a complete moratorium on the program.

Meanwhile, as Republicans engage in symbolism and pro forma legislative showmanship, Obama will continue to use the funding Republicans gave him for all his executive agencies to run up the score where it really matters.  Watch for him to finalize his new regulations on power plants and guns.  Watch for more illegal executive action on immigration and more mass clemencies for violent criminals.  He has already taken backdoor steps to increase immigration.

Sure, Paul Ryan will offer an open process when it doesn’t count: “Hey boys, you can run around those bases all you want when game time is over.”  But when he is pursuing “common ground” with Obama, such as legislation to retroactively release criminals from federal prison, that promise will go out the window, the same way it did on the refugee bill and the omnibus.

What else to watch for in the coming months?  Look for Republicans to focus on Obama’s trade deals, rubber stamp his ridiculous Syria intervention through passage of an AUMF, and an array of ‘off topic’ banal issues that fail to address the severity of Obama’s fundamental transformation.  Also, watch for incessant talk of “tax reform” (not tax cuts).

Obviously, this sounds like a raw deal for most Republicans members.  This is why leadership is brainwashing the rank-and-file members to believe that this year they will indeed use the power of the purse.  The talking point goes something like this:

“Look, Paul Ryan took over this mess late in the year and was dealt a bad hand by John Boehner. But wait until 2016 and we will pass each of the 12 appropriations bills individually and send them to Obama’s desk with GOP priorities attached.   Harry Reid already promised us he won’t filibuster those bills so they can go straight to Obama.  That way Obama will have a hard time vetoing every single bill.  He will be so intimidated by us following regular order that he will finally be forced to acquiesce to our demands.  Fear not, there is a new sheriff in town and we are finally exercising our power of the purse.”

I’ve heard some version of this talking point from so many members.  There are a number of problems with it:

1)  We are to believe the same people who had no problem blithely allowing John Boehner to destroy the GOP deterrent are now suddenly appalled by his tenure in office?  Where were they over the past few years when conservatives tried to oust Boehner? Fighting conservatives.

2)  The time to do this was last year.  They should have at least passed another temporary stop-gap bill into early this year to wield the power of the purse and withhold funding for key issues.  Now Obama has full funding until October with nothing to deter his illegal or harmful behavior.

3)  Process only matters if you sincerely plan to use it to achieve a specific end goal.  Obama knows they have no intention of fighting him in September over the budget for the same reason they declined to do so every other time since 2011.  They are terrified of a shutdown.  This is all smoke without fire.

4)  Notice they got Harry Reid to help craft this talking point by announcing he won’t block consideration of the appropriation bills in the Senate?  Here’s the kicker: there are two opportunities to filibuster a bill—on the motion to proceed with debate and on the motion to shut off debate.  Reid will allow the first vote to go through so that Democrats can offer amendments to embarrass Republicans.  And if 2016 is a replay of 2015, watch for McConnell to block conservative amendments while allowing Democrats to offer an array of amendments on issues pertaining to homosexual super rights.  Then, if Reid doesn’t like the bill he will just filibuster the motion to shut off debate.  House members who are unfamiliar with the Senate process are being played by leadership with the promise these bills will make it to Obama’s desk.

In other words, this is a long way of saying 2016 will look a lot like 2015.  The good news?  This is the end of the line for the GOP establishment.  Either a conservative will become the party leader this year or there will likely be an irremediable split within the party.  If not for the severe consequences of Obama’s fundamental transformation, it would actually be quite amusing to watch Ryan and McConnell dance around the bases in an empty stadium.

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