Politico had an outstanding but truly bone-chilling story yesterday about how appealing the prospects of a default and a government shutdown may be to House Republicans.
According to the piece by Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Jake Sherman, forcing a default by not raising the debt ceiling and shutting down the government by not passing a continuing resolution may be the preferred ways to go by a majority of the House GOP caucus no matter what that would mean to the U.S. economy, the Republican Party’s overall approval rating, the GOP’s prospects for a Senate majority in 2014 or a Republican winning the White House in 2016.
To those of us who have watched Washington operate for a while, this obviously sounds like totally insane, crazy self-destructive behavior by the House GOP.
But it would be wrong to dismiss it out of hand. From the conversations I’ve had with Republicans House members and staff since the 2012 election, the threats, are real and make a great deal of political sense no matter how obnoxious and damaging it otherwise would be.
The key is the new House GOP politics of this decade.
I’ve repeatedly been told that, with redistricting in place, House Republicans are relatively certain they’ll be able to maintain the majority at least through the end of this decade if they continue to appeal to the GOP base in their congressional districts.
The GOP’s base’s two biggest economic issues are tax and spending cuts. Therefore, taking a hard line in all budget debates is what makes the most sense politically and makes it most likely that Republicans will be in power for years to come.
Yes, not only is this is an admission that a Senate GOP majority and a Republican president may not happen for a while, it’s also the strongest possible indication that House Republicans are happy to sacrifice the prospects for a national Republican party win to preserve their own influence and prestige. It also points out how and why House and Senate Republicans are often at odds with each other these days: The compromises that appeal to the Senate GOP may well be anathema to their House counterparts, and the take-no-prisoners attitude the House GOP adopts will likely hurt Republicans in the Senate.
The impact of this thinking is clear from the Politico story. If to a House Republican the opinion of your base in your district is far more important than the results of a poll of a representative national sample of voters, then the GOP’s or Congress’ overall approval rating is largely irrelevant.
That makes previously unthinkable moves like a default or a shutdown far more understandable…and likely than was the case in the past.