Over at The Week today, I note that the Republicans enter into upcoming budget negotiations with a weak hand, because both parties know Republicans will blow their chances to win the Senate in 2014 if they force a government shutdown in 2013. Democrats can effectively say: if you want a shot at the Senate next year, you need to pay up now.
The only way for Speaker John Boehner to mitigate that leverage problem -- or to put it another way, reduce the fee -- is to keep his caucus unified and pass a budget that establishes a clear negotiating position. He could then effectively say: I'm ready to deal, but a deal has to go through my caucus. I speak for them, and I will tell you how far they will go.
Boehner's ability to play such a role has long been questioned. He failed to unify his caucus during the fiscal cliff negotiations, allowing the Democratic-led Senate to dictate the terms of the final deal. More recently, he failed to get his party to pass a comprehensive farm bill.
But yesterday's embarrassing spectacle of the House Republican leadership withdrawing its own transportation and housing appropriations bill (known in DC as the THUD bill) removes all doubt:
The House Republican caucus is fundamentally broken, intellectually bereft and lacking all leadership. There is no there there. There is nothing with which to negotiate.
As Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler explains, the House GOP has been crafting appropriations bills that follow their preferred budget template: the radical Paul Ryan budget. The House has repeatedly passed versions of the Ryan budget, but those broad-brush budget don't spell out specific cuts to government programs. They just set targets, leaving appropriations bills to get specific.
But when faced yesterday with the prospect of having to vote for those specific transportation and housing cuts, Republicans flinched. One faction said the cuts were too deep. Another faction said the cuts still were not deep enough. The three-way split in the party was too much and bill was destined for defeat when leadership yanked it off the floor.
So now we know. There are not 218 House Republicans who will actually follow through on their own demands, let alone a compromise worked out with Senate Democrats. The Republican flag is planted in mush. Boehner's leverage is leveraged.
Which leaves the House with two options:
Pass a bipartisan budget deal with primarily Democratic votes, as was done in the fiscal cliff deal.