The passage of the bipartisan immigration reform bill in the U.S. Senate yesterday got lots of attention after the enormous amount of effort spent by its supporters paid off: fourteen Republicans joined the Democratic majority in a relatively lopsided 68 to 32 vote. In ebullient press conferences, lawmakers were all but bragging to their mothers about their big day in school. But now the issue is being turned over to the perennial party pooper of politics: The U.S. House of Representatives.
Increasingly, the House is where ideas go to die. Circling the wagons after losing two presidential races, GOP leaders seem determined not to hand President Obama any significant legislative victory in his final term. But even if there was a legislative will, there may not be a way: there is a real schism between establishment GOP members and their brash Tea Party counterparts.
Speaker John Boehner – not a Tea Partier – is increasingly being frustrated by the mavericks in his own party, who served him a high-profile defeat last week when 62 of them joined Democrats in rejecting the federal Farm Bill. While Democrats were fighting proposed cuts to the food stamp program, a Tea Party Republican explained their opposition to the legislation: “This trillion-dollar spending bill is too big and would have passed welfare policy on the backs of farmers.”
Earlier this year, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza did a great job looking at the split in the House Republican caucus, noting: “The House has two hundred and thirty-two Republican members; nearly half of them—a hundred and ten—are from the South. The rest are scattered across the Midwest (fifty-eight), the mid-Atlantic (twenty-five), the mountain West (eighteen), and the Pacific (twenty-one). There are no House Republicans from New England.”
Beyond illustrating the geographic and generational divide, Lizza explained that because of Gerrymandering in heavily-Republican districts, incumbents are far more likely to face a spirited challenge in a GOP primary than they will in a general election because their districts have so few Democrats. A shift to the right is a safe move for many of these incumbents – even though it’s frustrating Boehner to no end.
With three parties essentially running around the House instead of two, dysfunction is ruling the day. (Does this remind anyone else of the State Senate in Albany?) While wheeling and dealing with multiple parties may sometimes work in parliamentary systems in Europe, it’s a different story in the U.S.A. where we have a hard enough time deciding between Coke and Pepsi.
Sadly, it seems that little will get done in Washington for the next three years. In full bunker mode, Republicans are hoping to recapture the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016. But avoiding deal making and compromise at all costs could be a roadmap for the GOP to becoming the next Whig Party.