As the clock ticks closer to midnight Tuesday and a first-ever default by the federal government that threatens to wreck the U.S. economy, Republicans will repeat over and over again that they are standing on principle for the benefit of the American people.
Don’t believe them for a minute.
They aren’t standing on principle; they are cowering in fear for their own political hides.
But what could be more frightening than throwing our country back into recession?
Facing a primary opponent from their own party in next year’s elections. That’s what.
There is no other reason for House Republicans not to agree to a deal today. None.
The deals have become so favorable for them that conservative columnist David Brooks criticized Republicans for rejecting what he calls “the mother of all no-brainers.”
No less an anti-tax stalwart than the influential Grover Norquist, the activist behind a politically powerful no-tax pledge which most of the Republicans have signed on to, gave conservatives a hall pass with permission to take a compromise deal that raises some tax revenue.
Moreover, Republicans like to talk about coming to rescue of business and “job creators.”
But even business executives have gotten so fed up with inaction on the debt crisis that they are telling Republicans that some new taxes would be OK, so just take the darn deal already.
With a conservative political overlord like Norquist and their sainted job creators all telling the Republicans to go for it, what’s holding them back?
They are afraid, no matter how good the deal is, some tea party folks back home will demand some even more absolutist position and one of them will come out of the shadows and challenge them from the right.
They all don’t want to be the next Bob Bennett. Bennett was a longtime Republican senator from Utah. He was as faithful a conservative as you could find, but he also was rational and realistic. Too realistic for the tea party folks back home. A tea party activist named Mike Lee popped up, and defeated Bennett for the Republican nomination for Senate last year. Mike Lee now is the senator, and Bennett is history.
With tea party folks actively cheering for default, a lot of these tea party-back freshman are terrified that if they took a deal — even an awesome one — they’ll be the next Bob Bennett and their congressional careers will come to a screeching halt.
What these guys don’t seem to understand, though, is that a lot of them probably will lose next year, anyway. If not in a primary, then certainly in the November general election.
Don’t believe me? Ask Michael Flanagan.
“Who’s that?”, you ask.
He was one of the Republican heroes of the last big Republican takeover election, back in 1994. Flanagan defeated the Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the then powerful-but-indicted chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Flanagan was a dragon slayer.
Except, guess what? Yep. Without a crook like Rosty to run against, Flanagan was dumped out of office just two years later.
It’s just going to happen: A number of the GOP freshmen sit in districts President Obama won in 2008 and a bunch of the 2010 freshmen will turn into defeated one-termers like Michael Flanagan.
While we’re name-dropping the names of obscure one-term wonders, let me drop one more: Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky.
Margolies-Mezvinsky was a freshman Democrat from a swing district in Pennsylvania back in 1993. She had the poor luck of being the Democrat who had to cast the tie-breaking vote for President Bill Clinton’s tax increase that year, a tax increase that helped pave the way for a balanced budget just a few years later.
When she cast that vote, though, Republicans mocked Margolies-Mezvinsky mercilessly. Then Rep. Bob Walker went so far as to jump up and down on the House floor, yelling “Bye-bye, Marjorie!”
Sure enough, Margolies-Mezvinsky also couldn’t make it back for a second term.
Except, it turns out, Margolies-Mezvinsky is OK with that. She wouldn’t change her vote if she had it to do over. “I am your worst-case scenario. And I’d do it all again,” she says.
This little-known lawmaker popped up again just last year. She told her story in the pages of the Washington Post. At the time, she was counseling wavering Democrats who were unsure about casting a politically difficult vote for healthcare reform.
“Simply put, you could be Margolies-Mezvinskied whether you vote with or against President Obama,” she says. “You will be assailed no matter how you vote this week. And this job isn’t supposed to be easy. So cast the vote that you won’t regret in 18 years.”
While Margolies-Mezvinsky was talking to Democrats about healthcare reform, the exact same thing could be said today to Republicans about raising the debt ceiling.
So, House Republicans: You can do the right thing, or continue to act as lemmings. But this time, you will be are taking us over the cliff, too.
Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. This article was first published as Devotion To Conservative Principle No Longer Behind Debt Crisis — Now It’s Just Naked GOP Politics Driving Us Off A Cliff on Blogcritics.