In a fairly predictable development, the Republican Party and the conservative movement are showing some signs of division over strategy and tactics, if not much in the way of ideological diversity. The latest indication of underlying fissures was the loss of 54 House Republicans in the vote to enact a second short-term continuing appropriations resolution.
Many observers will likely attribute those “no” votes to a Tea Party-bred determination to maximize budget cuts and intimidate Democrats, and there’s some truth to that. But the real story is that much of the angst on the Right about budget and appropriations negotiations isn’t about levels of spending, or even the size of government, but about the ideological hobby-horses embedded in the earlier House-passed appropriations bill (H.R. 1) that the Senate quickly rejected.
Two of the ringleaders of the House conservative revolt on spending, the hardy duo of Michele Bachmann of MN and Steve King of IA, sent out an encyclical explaining their vote in advance. They swore perpetual opposition to any appropriations measure that did not “defund” last year’s health reform legislation—not just money appropriated to implement it, but mandatory spending (e.g., through Medicaid and Medicare) required by it. Bachmann and King, then, don’t even think the radical appropriations bill passed earlier by the House went far enough, because it did not accomplish their ideological goals.
Overlapping with the “ObamaCare” obsession on the Right has been the fear that House Republicans won’t follow through with the assault on family planning services and other cultural targets encompassed in the original House-passed appropriations bill. Cultural conservative groups have been rattling sabers about this from the very beginning of the appropriations struggle, as noted by People for the American Way:
Religious Right anti-choice activists are continuing to draw a line in the sand, and dozens of them – including Tony Perkins, Tom Minnery, Penny Nance, Phyllis Schlafly, Charmaine Yoest, Richard Land, Marjorie Dannenfelser, Andrea Lafferty, and Bob Vander Plaats – have signed on to a new letter to Speaker Boehner and Rep. Eric Cantor to ostensibly thank them for supporting efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and remind them that this issue is “non-negotiable.”
Certainly some GOP pols are taking such threats seriously. As Politico’s David Catanese explained, the more ambitious among them largely joined the rebels:
A breakdown of Tuesday’s vote on a three-week budget bill to keep the government operating shows that a slew of House members considering promotions to a statewide office in 2012 bucked their parties.
The fascinating floor count reveals the complicated and risky political implications across the country surrounding a vote that temporarily avoids a shutdown.
Nine Republicans currently running or seriously considering Senate or gubernatorial bids bucked House leadership and voted “no.”
They include Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, Florida Rep. Connie Mack, New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce — all who have been mentioned as potential Senate candidates, as well as Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake, Nevada Rep. Dean Heller and Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg, who have each announced bids for the upper chamber.
Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, also a “no” vote, is likely to run for governor.
This dynamic should be duly noted by those who persistently think Republicans facing tough electoral competition wish to “move to the center” and cooperate with Democrats. Even if that were the case, Republicans have to survive primary competition, and many now have become convinced by the 2010 results that harsh conservatism awakens a conservative majority in the general electorate.
In any event, as House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the White House struggle towards some sort of compromise on FY 2011 appropriations, it will be important to remember that numbers aren’t everything in this fight. Many conservative activists view this as an ideal opportunity to grind axes and settle old scores, and a full-fledged revolt could ensue if Republican leaders sacrifice their pet causes in pursuit of an agreement .
Speaking of the views of conservative activists, Public Policy Polling has a new national survey of self-identified Republicans out, and it’s interesting in several respects.
First of all, the poll breaks out Republicans into the 69 percent who are regular viewers of Fox News, and the 31 percent who are not. The non-Fox viewers are rather notably less conservative, and certainly less supportive of conservative pols, than their Fox-watching counterparts. For example, Newt Gingrich’s favorable-unfavorable ratio among Fox-watching Republicans is 59-24. But it’s 31-49 among non-Fox-watching Republicans. That’s a very big swing.
The poll also shows exactly how big a problem Mitt Romney faces on his health policy problem. Asked if they would “willing to vote for someone who supported a bill at the state level mandating that voters have health insurance for President,” fully 61 percent said no, while only 17 percent said yes. The very idea of a mandate, even without reference to Obama’s health reform initiative, attracts considerable hostility. And there’s no way around the fact that Romney has supported and still supports a mandate.
But perhaps the most striking number in the PPP survey is that one-fourth of self-identified Republicans think that the community organizing group ACORN is going to steal the 2012 election for Barack Obama. ACORN, of course, went out of business nearly a year ago. It takes a special kind of determination to believe that this never-more-than-marginal group somehow represents a threat to democracy from the grave.