Catching Congress

Winning could cause big problems for Republicans.
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Posted November 3, 2010 by DAVE McNEELY in News

Dog catches car. That’s what a seasoned moderate Texas Republican thinks it will look like if, by the time you read this, his party has recaptured the U.S. House of Representatives.

If it has also recaptured the U.S. Senate, it will be “dog catches bus.”

GOPHe predicted a few weeks ago that if the GOP were to win control of the House, his party will demonstrate so thoroughly its inability to govern that American voters will be as eager to get the Republicans out in 2012 as they were the Democrats in 2010.

There is something of a precedent. That “dog catches car” line was in fact the opening of a column written in November 1994, just after the Republicans, led by New Gingrich,  captured the U.S. House for the first time in 40 years.

The words then came from a moderate-conservative Democrat, a lobbyist and former Texas legislator and gubernatorial aide. He predicted that if the rebellious Republicans indeed passed much of what they called their “Contract With America,” they would generate so much heat and animosity that they wouldn’t last long.

That proved correct, particularly with respect to Gingrich. Although he was elected speaker of the House by his colleagues, he had to step aside after two terms, at the behest of members of his own party.

This came after a showdown with then-President Bill Clinton over the budget had resulted in a shutdown of the government — for which Gingrich was blamed.

Clinton won re-election in 1996, and in early 1997 Gingrich was fined $300,000 on an ethics violation, by his Democratic and Republican colleagues, by an overwhelming vote of 395 to 28.

Republicans lost five House seats in the 1998 election, narrowly keeping a majority. Three days later, Gingrich resigned as speaker and from the House.

Our moderate Republican thinks something similar could happen again. Republican Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio is likely to become speaker if the GOP reclaims the House. The moderate Texan calls Boehner and Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky “political hacks” who will be unable to provide the leadership necessary in a difficult time.

(The Texas Republican further predicts that a third-party movement — possibly the Tea Party — will be viable in the 2012 election cycle. That will divide the Republicans, he forecast, and leave running room for the Democrats — including in Texas.)

None other than Newt Gingrich describes the chaos likely to result from a big Republican win this week.

“The Republicans are going to have a fascinating challenge,” Gingrich said on National Public Radio recently, noting that Boehner likely would have to ride herd on “at least 80 and maybe 100 freshmen, counting the ones who will replace Republican retirees.

“They’re all going to be more anti-Washington. They’re all going to be more anti-spending. They’re all going to think they were elected from back home to lecture the Republican leadership on its failings,” he said.

Then comes the rub.

The new lawmakers will probably choose to vote against any new spending and maybe some old spending, Gingrich predicted. But if they do that, then the only way to fund continuing government programs is by raising the federal debt ceiling.

If they instead vote to raise the debt ceiling, they will draw the wrath of the “It’s All Bad” Tea Partiers who sent them to Washington in the first place. But if they don’t, the government once more could face shutdown.

This will be about as pretty as the meltdown likely to hit the Texas Legislature when it convenes in January.

Texas lawmakers will have to figure out how to fill a $21 billion budget hole and decide whether and how to continue important agencies going through sunset review — including the insurance and transportation departments,  the Railroad Commission, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the Public Utility Commission.

And of course, when they’re not busy trying to get into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, the legislators will be drawing new districts not just for themselves, but also for the Texas congressional delegation.

If you think the TV version of Survivor is brutal, just keep an eye on this.

Longtime Texas political reporter Dave McNeely can be contacted at davemcneely111@gmail.com.


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