Mar 22, 2004
CD on Rubber Stamp Moderates
From our Congress Daily subscription to you:
Moderation In Moderation
By some counts, House Republican moderates have enough votes, perhaps as many as 30, to protect their interests on budget and spending measures. So why do they invariably cave in to their leadership and conservative colleagues on crucial votes—such as the annual budget resolution—rather than using that muscular potential to reshape budget priorities more to their liking? This year, for instance, the Budget Committee has produced a spending blueprint that will cut deeply into many domestic, non-defense programs that most GOP moderates support. Yet, a sampling of opinions among the moderates indicates that most of them will swallow hard and, yes, vote for the budget plan when it reaches the floor next week.
Read the extended entry to see Shays, Ose, Boehlert, Young, and LaTourette make excuses for the fact that the sizable portion (perhaps 30 or more) of Republicans who describe themselves as moderates haven’t said a peep while their party has grown rotten. Rubber Stamping will not be forgotten come November, you are what you eat.
“Everybody talks tough and caves in,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. “But they usually get something in response [to their objections].” The better negotiators among the moderates, he said, usually make out OK. This, of course, dilutes the cohesion of the “moderate bloc”—if that’s what one can call it. Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., an elder among the moderates, decries this breakdown but understands it. “We’ve generally lost our cohesion [as a negotiating force],” Castle said. “We rarely vote as a bloc. One reason for that is that we are so darned independent to begin with. And our independence varies from issue to issue. So what we do is, we tend to work indirectly [as individuals] to swing our deals with leadership, rather than working directly and in unison.” GOP leaders, in bargaining with the mods, isolate them individually and hand out a few goodies while preserving the basic thrust of the budget policy—in this case, the cuts in domestic spending. As Rep. Doug Ose, R-Calif., so neatly put it, “I would suggest to you that everyone around here negotiates.”
“When push comes to shove,” said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., “the hard reality is that members are peeled off by leadership.” What’s more, he said, it is risky to foil the aims of the party leadership. Perhaps mindful of the leaders’ ability to punish recalcitrant partisans, some moderates simply are not willing to run that risk. “You have to pick and choose your fights very carefully,” Boehlert said. “You don’t go into a battle when you can’t be sure you’ve got the votes to win.” Rep. Amo Houghton, R-N.Y., said the budget’s “skewed priorities” stick in his craw. But he goes along, he said, for practical reasons. “It [the budget resolution] is a start, you’ve got to have something to work from. I don’t like it, but we’ve got to have some kind of guideline or things go out of control.”
Even Appropriations Chairman Young, who squirms under the tight-fisted strictures of the conservatives’ budget resolution, thinks it is a necessary evil. “If there’s no budget resolution,” he said, “the sky’s the limit.” Also, said Houghton, many moderates do not consider the resolution—which sets spending levels for major functions of the federal government—as being etched in stone. House leadership, they say, usually stands ready to oil the squeakiest wheels among the moderates as well as tweak budget priorities. “Leadership cares more about what Appropriations and Ways and Means [committees] think than what the Budget Committee thinks,” Shays said. So the political exigencies addressed by those super-panels usually overshadow the more academic musings of the budget-makers. Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, agrees. “With no disrespect to the Budget Committee, the appropriators always go their own way anyway. This [budget resolution] is just a blueprint.”
As for the wisdom of standing as a bloc against the conservative majority, most of the moderates view that as a prescription for legislative paralysis and a gift to opposition Democrats, as well as an abdication of their duty to govern, especially with a Republican president in the White House. That is a lesson, by the way, that they learned from the Democrats, who, when they ruled both the House and the White House, were often stymied by defections on key votes, such as budget plans, among Blue Dog conservatives in their party.
—by David Hess and Peter Cohn