Time for the Republicans to stop the BS and get their act together

As a majority of House Republicans attempt to choose a new speaker of the House, here’s a reminder that the moment is too dire, too serious, and too fraught with risk for the usual shenanigans.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives appeared “clearly shaken leaving [a] classified Israel briefing,” according to Heather Caygle of Punchbowl News. Maybe they were and are just stunned at how blindsided Israel and the U.S. intelligence community were by the Hamas attack. Maybe there are some ominous indicators that Hezbollah or some other foe of Israel is planning a large-scale attack on the Jewish state as well.

Or perhaps something in the briefing reflected the Pentagon’s concerns that some Islamist group might see the fighting around Israel as a green light to take shots at Americans in the region: “Officials are specifically worried that Iranian proxy groups in Iraq and Syria, or Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf, could take advantage of the instability in the region to attack American or partner forces operating in those two countries.”

Then again, it sounds like things got heated behind the closed doors of the briefing.

Democrats are furious at GOP Rep. Derrick Van Orden for a curse-laden outburst that interrupted a White House briefing on the Israel terrorist attack.

Multiple attendees described Van Orden (R-Wis.) as acting belligerent towards the Biden administration briefers when he asked questions. Several people said Van Orden cursed directly at the briefers, prompting loud boos in the room. One person in the room said Van Orden shouted that the briefers’ presentation was “pathetic.” Another attendee described it as “offensive and inappropriate.”

The point is, for those who showed up to the briefing, there’s something out there that is bad or ominous enough to leave members of Congress “clearly shaken.” These aren’t just serious times; the you-know-what is hitting the fan.

Dear House Republicans: There’s no time for sitting around bickering about who gets to lead the chamber, or the usual camera-hogging fundraising stunts, shenanigans, or wearing shirts that misinterpret The Scarlet Letter. 

We don’t have time for the usual bullshit nonsense.

Will Rogers, author of the famous quip about the disorganization of the Democratic Party of his day, would presumably be mystified and appalled by what’s been transpiring in the Republican-controlled House.

First, of course, a mere eight Republicans ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy last week by voting against him on the House floor together with every single Democrat. This move against McCarthy made zero sense — which is why 210 Republicans voted to retain him — but was led by attention-seeking backbencher Matt Gaetz, who measures his legislative success by how many cable hits he gets.

Then, this week, House Republicans held an internal meeting and elected their No. 2, Majority Leader Steve Scalise, as their nominee as speaker. Scalise won a narrow vote over the Trump-endorsed candidate Jim Jordan. But as soon as Scalise began to try to nail down the 217 votes he’d need to win the vote on the floor, he realized the votes weren’t there and withdrew.

There was at least a tissue of an ideological case against McCarthy, whom his critics accused, unfairly, of not fighting hard enough for spending cuts. But the Scalise meltdown is almost entirely the product of petty rivalries and hurt feelings. McCarthy supporters didn’t like how his support for McCarthy was tepid; Jordan supporters didn’t like the fact that he beat their man; and some members are generally in ill sorts after Gaetz and Co. dragged the party into this fiasco.

A low point was Representative Nancy Mace — who voted against McCarthy for no reason and seems to have learned that a key to fame and influence in the Republican House is acting ridiculous — saying that she couldn’t vote for Scalise either, peddling opposition research about him speaking to white supremacists over 20 years ago, a story with murky details that even several prominent black Democrats in Louisiana have said was overblown. Mace didn’t seem to have moral qualms about Scalise in 2020, when she met with him and touted his endorsement.

The answer to this mess is Republicans resolving to support whichever speaker candidate has the support of most of the conference. Whether that means a majority of the conference, or a two-thirds or three-fourths supermajority, the bulk of the conference should not be at the mercy of a small number of dissenters. Going forward, there should be rules that a speaker can’t be toppled during the session by anyone who doesn’t have more support and that members voting against the conference-endorsed candidate on the floor lose privileges. The conference doesn’t seem to be in any shape to adopt such rules, though, and will probably have to grow exhausted enough with the current chaos that everyone is finally willing to settle on a leader.

Until such time, House Republicans are going to continue to be an embarrassment even by the standards of disorganized political parties.

There’s work to be done. In ordinary circumstances, the House would have already passed a resolution standing with the people of Israel. (The House should still pass a separate resolution vehemently condemning Palestinian support for Hamas and see if anyone in “the Squad” is dumb enough to vote no or “present.”)

The White House and certain members of Congress want $2 billion in supplementary funding for Israel, replenishing Israel’s stockpile of interceptors for its Iron Dome missile-defense system, artillery shells, and other munitions. There’s also widespread desire on Capitol Hill to pass some sort of funding bill to boost border-security and immigration-enforcement measures. Even Democrats want to look like they’re doing something on this issue.

Before I get to Ukraine, let’s point out that under the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act passed last year, the U.S. government is authorized to spend up to $2 billion annually in military-grant assistance to the island from 2023 to 2027.

One of the arguments of the Ukraine-aid skeptics is that the U.S. cannot continue sending aid to Ukraine because those resources are needed for the defense of Taiwan. That applies to some weapons systems, but the battle to defend Taiwan would primarily be a naval and aerial battle, while the fighting in Ukraine is primarily a land war. Ukraine doesn’t really have a navy, and yet somehow it’s winning a lot of the fights in the Black Sea and sinking a lot of Russian ships.

It would do a lot of good to send Taiwan every penny’s worth of that $2 billion. For perspective, Taiwan’s entire defense budget is roughly $19 billion, which is really, really low if you’re trying to deter a Chinese invasion. CIA director William Burns said in February that the United States knows “as a matter of intelligence” that China’s ruler, Xi Jinping, ordered his military to be ready to conduct an invasion of Taiwan by 2027. That means we’ve got less than four years to turn Taiwan into such a heavily armed and well-defended “porcupine” that Xi (or whoever is running China at that time) sees invading Taiwan as an unwinnable bloodbath.

Then there’s Ukraine, which needs weapons, not debates about which ones. No, neither Abrams tanks nor F-16s nor longer-range missiles will make a significant difference on their own. But if Ukraine could deploy all of those weapons simultaneously, then we would likely see the Russian lines buckle and falter on a larger scale. It’s absurd for NATO to provide Ukraine only a portion of what is required to dislodge a long line of heavily armed, dug-in Russian forces, watch for a couple of months, and then conclude the task is impossible.

(The “we can’t afford it” crowd should note that there’s “an estimated $300 billion” of Kremlin assets “frozen in various bank accounts throughout Western countries,” with an estimated $5 billion in U.S. banks. Why not make the Russians pay for another round of re-arming Ukraine?)

And then there’s the ticking clock on the government shutdown. Congress has until November 17 to figure out the government’s fiscal year 2024 budget, or the government will shut down just in time for Thanksgiving.

I know some self-identified conservatives who think government shutdowns are good things. These people are wrong.

Government shutdowns do not save the taxpayers any money; in fact, they usually end up costing the taxpayers more money, because government office managers pause doing their usual work and spend time figuring out which workers qualify as essential and which ones don’t and making contingency plans. The rules and regulations for managing employees during a shutdown or furlough are ridiculously complicated.

From the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

While estimates vary widely, evidence suggests that shutdowns tend to cost — not save — money for several reasons. For one, putting contingency plans in place has a real cost. In addition, many user fees and other charges are not collected during a shutdown, and federal contractors sometimes include premiums in their bids to account for uncertainty in being paid. While many federal employees are forced to be idle during a shutdown, they have historically received and are now guaranteed back pay, negating much of those potential savings. OMB [Office of Management and Budget] official estimates of the 2013 government shutdown found that $2.5 billion in pay and benefits were paid to furloughed employees for hours not worked during the shutdown, as well as roughly $10 million in penalty interest payments and lost fee collections.

Shutdowns also carry a cost to the economy. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the 2018-2019 shutdown reduced Gross Domestic Product by a total of $11 billion, including $3 billion that will never be recovered. On top of that effect, CBO notes that longer shutdowns negatively affect private-sector investment and hiring decisions as businesses cannot obtain federal permits and certifications or access federal loans. A 2019 Senate report found that the three government shutdowns in 2013, 2018, and 2019 cost taxpayers nearly $4 billion.

Also, it’s just a bad, dumb idea to deem federal employees essential and then not pay them for a stretch. During the last government shutdown, almost 55,000 employees of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection did their jobs while not being paid for about a month, as did more than 16,000 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees, more than 15,000 employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and about 36,000 FBI employees — including about 13,000 special agents.

About 35,000 guards and employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons watched over convicted felons without getting paid. About 7,600 employees of the Drug Enforcement Agency, 4,600 employees of the U.S. Marshals Service, and 4,200 employees of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives were forced to work without pay as well.

Yes, these workers were given their overdue pay later, but this is a stupid way of running the government.

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