Tea Party

Deserting the Middle Ground

The ideological middle in Congress is an endangered species. And, contrary to popular belief, it may not be the fault of politicians.

Many have speculated that congressional redistricting, which occurs every 10 years, is a major culprit. As the theory goes, districts are made politically safer for incumbents, which means they cater more to the majority and neglect the minority.

However, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post says data may not support that theory. He cites the work of a trio of political science professors who wrote a paper titled, "Does Gerrymandering Cause Polarization?" Their answer is "no."

Murray Builds on Her Pragmatic Reputation

Senator Patty Murray of Washington added another feather to her political cap by negotiating a budget deal with House Republicans that should prevent more fiscal cliffs in the next two years.

Murray and her House counterpart, Rep. Paul Ryan, unveiled the agreement this week. The House is scheduled to vote on it as early as today.

“We cheer for a different football team, clearly. We catch different fish. We have some differences on policy, but we agree our country needs some certainty," said Murray.

While the deal doesn't live up to expectations of a grand bargain, it has a bipartisan stamp and replaces some of the worst effects of budget sequestration with what Murray termed "smart cuts." The package also contains added revenue.

Tea Party conservatives are upset the deal increases spending by $63 billion, while Democrats are mad because the package doesn't extend unemployment benefits for people suffering long-term joblessness.

But both sides could take solace that the plan didn't touch sensitive political nerves – entitlement reform for Democrats, corporate tax loopholes for Republicans. And that, according to Murray and Ryan, was by design.

The Real Hastert Rule

Thumb through the U.S. Constitution and you won't find the Hastert Rule, which says no bill can come to the House floor unless there are enough votes to pass it in the majority caucus. Turns out former Speaker Dennis Hastert, a former high school wrestling coach, said there never was a Hastert Rule.

This is relevant because current House Speaker John Boehner has invoked the Hastert Rule in blocking legislation that might attract enough Republicans and Democrats to pass, but doesn't have enough votes to pass with just Republicans.

Sound illogical? Perhaps, but it is the leverage exerted by the Tea Party faction of the House GOP conference. They have enough votes to deny Boehner the 218 vote-majority he needs of his fellow party members. This leverage is what has landed Congress in gridlock and led to a partial federal government shutdown, now entering its fourth day.

Republican spokesmen have made a lot out of President Obama and Senate Democrats refusing to negotiate to "find common ground" on defunding Obamacare. But another way to look at the stalemate is that the House is not letting is full membership exercise its collective judgment in deference to a minority that could be as few as 30 members.

Apart from the grandstanding and finger pointing on Capitol Hill, there is a valid question about whether the presumptive Hastert Rule is constitutional or at least in the spirit of the Constitution.

James Madison and other founding fathers detested what they called "factions." They worried that partisan considerations could overtake policy considerations. While senators have the right to filibuster any legislation of which they disapprove, no such privilege extends in the House.

Debt Debate Winners and Losers

Some consider Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as the most influential player in the debt ceiling showdown. Photo by Talk Radio News Service.The debt-limit deal that emerged from many late-night, backroom discussions produced political winners and losers. Here’s our take on who won and who lost.

Winners

The Tea Party: The upstart Tea Party can claim victory for pressuring the House Republican caucus to retain its no-taxes position. It also pushed for a balanced budget constitutional amendment, which made its way into a revised budget proposal by Speaker John Boehner after his initial plan failed to attract enough Republican votes to pass in the House. The final deal contained no new tax revenues and forces Congress to vote up or down on a balanced budget amendment before the end of the year.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: Some view McConnell as the most influential senator in the debt ceiling debate by stressing the importance of avoiding a national default and a compromise that could pass both the House and Senate, which are under split political control. Unlike Boehner, McConnell was mostly able to hold together his caucus of Senate Re;publicans, strengthening his position at the final bargaining table.