Repeal, replace and ... ha ha ha.

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House Republicans Face New Tests of Their Irrelevance

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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We’re about to see if House Republicans have learned anything in the last few years. That is, we’ll see if the small group of radicals can bully mainstream conservatives into casting irresponsible and counterproductive votes on two measures. 

First, the House Freedom Caucus zealots are intent on forcing a vote this week on impeaching the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, John Koskinen. Even if they had a case against him -- and they don’t -- it’s an abuse of their power to go through with an impeachment procedure with no chance for a conviction in the Senate, and with limited time before the end of the current Congress. 

Then sometime before the end of the month, the House will need to bring up a bill to keep the government running after the current fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. Since it has run out of time to pass regular appropriations bills (none have been sent to Barack Obama so far, even for a veto), the House will need to pass a “continuing resolution” to give itself more time. And since members are determined to leave town to resume campaigning, after already taking an unusually long summer break, “more time” means waiting until after the election. 

The obvious compromise, and one the Senate appears to be working toward, is a continuing resolution without any policy riders except for the funding Congress has failed to pass for fighting the Zika virus. Then in a post-election lame-duck session, the two parties can resume fighting over the details of financing for various other government programs.  But the House Freedom Caucus members will oppose any continuing resolution that doesn’t give them 100 percent of what they want.

For mainstream conservatives, both the impeachment decision and the continuing resolution will be tough votes. Though there is nothing substantive to be gained by voting with the radicals, it requires standing up to them and risking being called a “moderate” or “RINO.”

Too often, House Republicans have joined the “vote no and hope yes” club. In the long run, it gives a small minority of the party the ability to make life impossible for the majority. 

In the six years of Republican majorities in the House, conservative legislation has gone nowhere because the party can’t unify behind anything that might have a chance of passing. Why bother drafting an Obamacare replacement or a tax reform plan or anything else since it will inevitably be judged a sellout by the radicals?

Meanwhile, conservatives miss opportunities to make incremental gains by cutting deals with Obama because the only way to unite is under House Freedom Caucus terms -- and those terms require opposition to compromise. The party’s leadership is constantly undermined. The behavior of the House Republicans was likely one reason a total outsider was chosen as the party’s presidential nominee this year, something no one in Congress wanted. 

They’ve had lessons for six years on what happens if they don’t stand up to the pressure. Will they? I’m not optimistic

  1. And perhaps other measures that large majorities of both parties support.

  2. Odds are that the bill will pass the House with mostly Democratic votes even if mainstream conservative Republicans oppose it. But there's always the chance it could fail and at least temporarily shut down the government.

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To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net