The GOP Rediscovers Compromise—As a Way to Shame Democrats

Let’s make a deal! (As long as it’s our deal.)

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

My latest piece on Shutdown 2013: The Shuttening explains why Republicans took so long to ask for “regular order” to return in the budget process. Only on Monday night, as a way of bringing Democrats to heel, did they suggest that the House and Senate send budget conferees to meet and hash this out—with less than two hours left to act. On Tuesday, Republicans held a six-minute press event where their conferees gathered at a table and asked why the Democrats wouldn’t meet them. The Democrats said why: They wanted to do this months ago, and not with a crisis bearing down. But the GOP plan only works in a crisis mode.

“In this body, it’s been so long since we had regular order, there’s a huge percentage of this membership that doesn’t remember, doesn’t understand, doesn’t have a clue how it’s supposed to work,” said Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, elected in 1994. “Ultimately, if you believe in regular order, just like any legislative procedure, you have to make sure that the minority is heard and the majority governs.”

On Monday, before the new House strategy was unveiled (and thus before he became a conferee), Graves was still keen on returning to a normal, noncrisis budgeting process. “I have no worries about regular order,” he said. “I think you’re seeing some regular order in play here. This has got to be the first time in a while that you’re seeing something go, House-Senate, House-Senate—it reminds me of that cartoon when I was a kid, Schoolhouse Rock. You remember that?”

The GOP’s misunderstanding or underestimation of Democrats has yet to abate. Robert Costa, who’s always able to mind-meld with Republicans, says they expect Reid to falter.

Behind the scenes, they’re irritated by his daily killing of anything the House passes and are eager to make sure he shares some of the political pain from the shutdown. There’s no rush to give him what he wants. Besides, many House Republicans believe Senate Democrats are only hanging with Reid on every vote because he has assured them the House GOP will break, and they think if they can incrementally put pressure on Reid’s conference, his grip could be weakened.

I think if yesterday’s debacle on the “mini-CRs” proves anything, it’s that Reid knows how to count votes and his opponents don’t. The GOP either reformulates the bill that can go to Congress, or introduces a CR that can be amended by Democrats in the House, or it keeps lacking the two-thirds majority it needs to win the trick votes. (Forty or so Democrats can break with the party in the House without providing the GOP the margin for a suspension of the rules. That covers every Democrat in a red or swing seat.)

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the government shutdown.