Republicans no longer playing on Obama's turf

Michael Barone:


The House Republicans, in serious trouble with public opinion as they blinked facing the "fiscal cliff" over New Year's, seem suddenly to be playing a more successful game -- or, rather, games, an inside game and an outside game.inside game can be described by the Washington phrase "regular order." 
What that means in ordinary American English is Bills are written in subcommittee and committee and then go to the floor. When the House and Senate pass different versions -- likely when Republicans control the House and Democrats have a majority in the Senate -- the two are taken to conference committee to be reconciled.

Then both houses vote on the conference committee report. If it is approved, the president can sign or veto it.

Note the lack of negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders. Speaker John Boehner decided they're useless after the failure of his grand bargain talks with Barack Obama.

Under regular order, House Republicans had little leverage when the fiscal cliff loomed on New Year's Day. Taxes were to go up by $4.5 trillion if the House didn't act. So Republicans accepted higher rates on those earning more than $400,000.

Now Republicans have the leverage. The budget sequester to automatically take effect March 1 would cut spending by $1 trillion. Republicans don't like the $500 billion defense spending cuts, but they can stomach them.

Obama took to the teleprompter yesterday afternoon to call for short-term spending cuts and revenue increases through elimination of deductions. Boehner was willing to consider the latter as part of a grand bargain that included tax rate cuts and entitlement reform.

But if the net effect is revenue increases, Republicans aren't interested. For them, this would be "laughable -- they have zero reason to do it," as my Washington Examiner colleague Philip Klein has written.

You may have noticed that everything in this column so far is Washington talk -- fiscal cliff, sequester, regular order. It's not language you hear ordinary Americans speaking in everyday life.

Which leads to the House Republicans' outside game, advanced by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a speech Tuesday afternoon at the American Enterprise Institute, where I'm a resident fellow.

It was scheduled well in advance and, interestingly, Obama chose the same hour to speak before the cameras. He did the same thing once before, in May 2009, when former Vice President Cheney spoke at AEI on CIA interrogation techniques.

Cantor titled his remarks "Making Life Work," and they were clearly aimed at Main Street.
... 
Both new approaches are a recognition of how fruitless it is to deal with Obama.  Newt Gingrich recognized the futility of dealing with Obama earlier and most and recommended the switch to "regular order."  It gives the House the leverage of saying "No."

When Obama proposed how to avoid the defense sequester, Speaker Boehner responded by saying the House had already passed legislation to deal with the cuts and it is time for the Senate to pass their own legislation or adopt the House bills.  He also made clear there would be no tax increases as part of the deal.

In the Senate Lisa Merkowski has proposed opening up federal sites for drilling as a way to increase revenue that would be acceptable to Republicans.  We will have to see whether Obama is serious enough about the revenue side to consider the energy changes that would produce it.

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