Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


How the budget deal came down (i.e. what compromise looks like)

How the far-right Freedom Caucus turned into a gift for Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats.

I posted Friday a brief note of half-hearted congratulations to the Congress and the country on the compromise tax-and-spending agreement that passed with strong bipartisan support, thus postponing for nine months the next big opportunity for a government shutdown.

Although it’s probably a bit more complicated in the details, thanks to this smart, short piece by Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker, we get an overview of how this particular piece of sausage was made edible for majorities of both parties in both houses, and a hint of how the far-right Freedom Caucus turned into a gift for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats.

Here’s the summary, from Lizza’s piece:

How did this happen? Two underlying dynamics were at play. First, because many of the most conservative Republicans would not support the spending bill under almost any circumstances, Ryan had to depend on Democrats to reach the two hundred and eighteen votes necessary to pass the legislation. That put Pelosi in a powerful negotiating position, and is the most recent example of how the House Freedom Caucus, by withholding support for Republican leadership’s priorities, has helped to shift legislation to the left. As the former Freedom Caucus member Tom McClintock argued when he resigned from the group, in September, the Freedom Caucus has “unwittingly become Nancy Pelosi’s tactical ally.”

Article continues after advertisement

The second political dynamic at play was that, despite all of the recent attention paid to issues of stopping Planned Parenthood and blocking refugees, the constituencies for these policies proved to be incredibly weak compared to the G.O.P.’s business wing, especially the American Petroleum Institute, which launched a fierce lobbying campaign to win the right to export American crude. “Today, the American people can cheer the House and now the Senate for putting the nation’s energy needs ahead of politics,” the American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard wrote in a statement when the bill passed.

Big Oil wanted that ban on exports of U.S. oil lifted. Big Oil is organized, rational, strategic and powerful within the Congress, especially on the Repub side. So, in order to deliver on that (and, presumably, to avoid a shutdown that many Republicans believed would make them look crazy heading into an election year), Pelosi got to demand something that her caucus wanted. She chose to use the budget fix as a vehicle to extend tax credits for the solar/wind energy that Rizza calls “perhaps the most significant green-energy achievement of the Obama era” and that some say will do more to speed up the shift away from fossil fuels than the global climate deal just made in Paris, and that Pelosi argues will do 10 times more good for the environment than the export of U.S. oil will do harm.

One big thing that each side wanted. Chances are, whichever side of the ideological spectrum you inhabit, you like one and you dislike the other. Welcome to compromise. And, of course, those Republicans who were hoping to use a budget deal as hostage to force President Obama to sign something like a ban on funds for Planned Parenthood or a ban on refugees from Syria or an admission that he really wasn’t born in America so his whole presidency doesn’t count or whatever, were out in the cold.