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Mellman: Fissures and factions

With all eyes fixed firmly on the fissures Donald Trump is creating in the GOP, the deep divisions among congressional Republicans are going largely unnoticed. 

It’s hard to overestimate the height of symbolic petard on which GOP lawmakers are hoisting themselves by failing to pass a budget. 

{mosads}When the proverbial shoe was on the other foot and Democrats controlled the Senate, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson labeled Democrats’ inability to pass a budget a “national scandal.”

John Cornyn of Texas claimed “the most important thing that Republicans can do when we are in the majority in the Senate and the House is pass a budget.”

And Leader Mitch McConnell promised Republicans would pass a budget every year if they won control of the Senate, adding passionately, “The law doesn’t say you have to pass a budget unless it’s hard, or unless you have to negotiate with the Republican House, or unless you don’t want to have any amendments. The law says pass a budget.” 

Rhetoric was no less heated on the House side. 

Paul Ryan, who is now Speaker, decried Democrats’ inability to pass a budget: “The Senate, against current law, has not passed a budget in 2010, in 2011, and now Senator [Harry] Reid says he’s not even going to budget again in 2012. We will, because the law says we will need to, but we also think we have a moral obligation to try and fix this country’s big problems before they get out of our control.”

John Boehner, the former Speaker, literally sacrificed his office on the altar of the budget, quitting to enable its passage.

Now, stymied solely by their own internal divisions, Republicans have failed to pass a budget as promised. Ryan, the man who was supposed to bridge the divides in the GOP caucus, has been unable to accomplish his primary goal.

Ignoring the pleading of economists, many Republicans are demanding massive additional budget cuts, even though the European experience has demonstrated clearly that such measures will choke off economic growth.

Republicans are also ignoring the public.

Voters’ fixation on the deficit has abated. In 2013, 72 percent of Americans told Pew pollsters that reducing the deficit was “a top priority.” Since then, that number has dropped 16 points, leaving it below such concerns as strengthening the economy, improving education, protecting Social Security and Medicare and creating jobs.

The significance accorded to deficit reduction declined across party lines: Republicans are 14 points less likely to identify it as a top priority than they had been in 2013, while Democrats are 19 points and independents 17 points less likely to do so.

Moreover, Americans roundly reject the draconian cuts Republicans want to make in order to balance the budget in short order.

The National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey asked Americans whether they thought we were spending too much, too little or the right amount dealing with a variety of issues.

Sixty percent believe we are spending too little protecting the environment; just 11 percent said “too much.” Fifty-two percent want more spent on drug rehabilitation, an area where just 14 percent want to spend less. Three-quarters want more spending on education; a mere 7 percent want less. Fifty-five percent want more spent on Social Security; 7 percent want less. Fifty-seven percent favor more spending for developing alternative energy sources; only 11 percent want less spent in this arena.

Indeed, majorities thought we were spending too much in only two areas: foreign aid and welfare — using that word.

“Assistance to the poor,” on the other hand, generated a very different response: 64 percent thought we were spending “too little,” while only 12 percent said “too much.”

So Trump is far from the only source of division in the Republican Party. Its congressional wing is so badly fractured that it is, in its own words, “violating the law” by not passing a budget. 

At a minimum, those divisions underline the GOP’s inability to govern.

But if Republicans ever were to pass a budget that met the demands made by large factions of the party, it would almost certainly spell the party’s political doom.  

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the minority leader of the Senate and the Democratic whip in the House.

Tags Boehner Donald Trump John Boehner John Cornyn Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Ron Johnson

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