The House Prefers Chaos to Order

John Boehner

“Regular order!” That has been the demand of House Republicans for three years, insisting on a return to the distant days when Congress actually passed budget resolutions and spending bills, instead of paying for the government through shortsighted stopgap measures.

“Senate Democrats have done nothing,” Speaker John Boehner said on “Meet the Press” on March 3, referring to the Senate’s failure to pass a budget since 2009. “It’s time for them to vote. It’s time for us to get back to regular order here in Congress.” The two chambers could try to resolve their differences in a conference committee, he said, “and maybe come to some agreement.”

But a funny thing happened a few days after those comments were made: the Senate agreed to that demand and actually passed a budget. Suddenly all those Republican cries for regular order stopped. Suddenly the House has no interest in a conference with the Senate. Instead, Congress is preparing for yet another budget crisis.

A few days ago, when Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, tried to appoint members of a conference committee, Republicans refused to allow it, saying it would cause “complications for the House.” As Senator Jeff Sessions, the leading Republican on the Budget Committee, explained it, “We haven’t been able to have any understanding on how this conference might work.”

In fact, Republicans know exactly how it would work: they would have to compromise. The Senate would have to agree to some of the House’s spending cuts, and the House would have to agree to some of the Senate’s spending increases and the tax increases on the rich to pay for them. As the country has learned in recent years, House Republicans are incapable of compromise on those issues.

Being intransigent in a formal budget conference, however, would put Republicans in a bind. The public would be able to see that Democrats were offering billions in spending cuts while Republicans were offering nothing. And if a conference did not produce an agreement in 20 days, members could offer “motions to instruct” the committee that required debate and a vote, which the speaker could not use his usual powers to stop. That, too, could cause embarrassment for the Republican leadership, as Democrats and Tea Party members offered a series of motions that would demonstrate how incoherent the Republican agenda truly was.

House leaders are stalling by insisting on a “preconference,” which Patty Murray, the Senate budget chairwoman, has resisted. Clearly, what is frustrating Republicans is that they do not have an imminent crisis to exploit to get their way. Since 2011, they have repeatedly relied on the threat of a government shutdown, or a possible credit default, to force damaging spending cuts. (That is how the sequester was created.)

Even now, they are discussing using the debt-ceiling expiration, later this summer or fall, to extort corporation-friendly changes to the tax code that raise no revenue. And this week they are bringing up a dangerous bill that would pay private bondholders in the event of a default.

The demands for regular order were hollow and dishonest. The only way House Republicans can achieve their extremist agenda is not through preserving order, but by causing chaos.

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