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The immediate dividends of Cantor’s defeat

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Over at Talking Points Memo, their “senior congressional reporter,” a guy named Sahil Kapur, bemoans Eric Cantor’s loss. This has to be taken with a grain of salt as Kapur was one of the “journalists” who criticized Matt Drudge for reporting he’d paid Obamacare taxes. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume that Kapur knows more about Congress than he does about economics or tax law.

Let’s face it, this isn’t the most productive Congress. In fact it’s even less productive than Harry Truman’s famous “do-nothing Congress.”

But one lesson House Republicans are taking home from Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning defeat is that any hint of cooperation with Democrats comes at a potentially career-ending price. Cantor was — at least proclaimed to be — committed to bridging deep divides over several complex and controversial bills.

Three legislative projects — an Obamacare alternative, immigration reform and a Voting Rights Act fix — were a heavy lift even before Cantor lost to tea party-backed economics professor David Brat in his GOP primary last Tuesday.

Now they’re even more doomed.

I really hope he’s correct in this assessment.

In the macro, a “do-nothing” Congress is a good thing. As Mark Twain (or maybe Gideon Tucker) observed, “no man’s life, liberty, or property are safe with the legislature’s in session.” It is no coincidence that the states with legislatures that are essentially full time also have the lowest rate of economic growth. There are few, if any, issues that benefit from additional legislation. It would be nice if Congress actually passed a budget, and Obama could take enough time off from golfing to sign it, but otherwise I think it is less expensive, and less dangerous, to pay Congress to sit on its hands rather than demand action.

Kapur’s assessment of Cantor’s problem is not exactly correct. There are issues where deals can be cut with Democrats. There are also issues where deals with Democrats are impossible within the context of adhering to governing principle. Cantor was never a movement conservative and would rather cut a deal for the sake of cutting the deal than walk away.

This brings us to the three issues that Kapur assures us are dead. All three of these have one unifying feature. Compromise with Democrats is impossible because we don’t see the problem in the same way and there is no trust or common ground upon which to build a dialog.

Replacement for Obamacare

The Democrats have been after the GOP to offer a replacement for Obamacare. There are two reasons for this. First, as Obamacare collapses under its own weight and internal contradictions, Democrats will be held to blame. So long as the GOP demands a repeal the Democrats are stuck with defending a rather indefensible mess. Second, if the GOP offers a replacement, the Democrats will have a hard target to aim at. The conversation then will be one of comparing the real misery of Obamacare with a parade of horribles concocted from a proposed GOP plan. With 2014 shaping up to be a painful experience for Democrats at any place on the ballot, the Democrats desperately need to detach the tar-baby of Obamacare from their nether regions. Our deal on Obamacare should be a return to the status quo ante followed by free market based reforms to reduce government influence in that business sector.

Immigration Reform

Immigration reform runs roughly in parallel to Obamacare. The Democrats are trying to create a climate where the GOP feels it has to DO SOMETHING! on immigration. The SOMETHING, right now, is the odious Senate immigration reform act which does nothing to mitigate illegal immigration while declaring what amounts to an amnesty for all illegals currently in the United States. The Democrats call it a “path to citizenship” but in reality they are seeking a “path to dependency and Democrat voter registration” for these newly minted citizens. Many in the GOP have bought into the nonsense that failing to DO SOMETHING! will doom the GOP. For instance, Lindsey Graham just three days ago, in a clear reaction to Cantor’s defeat, was shopping the already discredited meme that Cantor was beaten on immigration:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) offered a pointed rebuttal Sunday to strategists and pundits who say embracing immigration reform will put GOP incumbents at risk in future primaries.

Graham said if Republicans let the status quo stand and hope illegal immigrants leave the United States because of poor conditions, they will obliterate their chances of winning the White House in two years.

I don’t think anyone in the GOP thinks the current immigration system serves the interest of the nation or of potential immigrants but the monstrosity that stalks abroad under the name of “comprehensive immigration reform” is the wrong direction.

Getting back to electoral politics, the Democrats also know that the House taking up “comprehensive immigration reform” will result is a virtual civil war within the GOP, one that will have grave consequences in November’s elections. Just as they would like to have a GOP alternative to Obamacare to campaign against, they would like to have the GOP mired down by internal divisions.

Voting Rights Act “fix”

It is sort of shocking to find this on the list as it really isn’t a GOP or conservative issue at all. The Supreme Court ruled that Congress cannot use evidence of racial discrimination from sometime in the past to justify the totally unelected — and as we see every day unaccountable — Department of Justice from insinuating itself into state affairs. It is fairly obvious that the GOP caucus is not going to target GOP states to wear the label of “racist.” Though Cantor had made noises pleasing to Democrats on the issue, it is difficult to see how he would have moved any legislation given general opposition. But the left, evidently, thought Cantor would make it happen (see Daily Beast, The Nation,  Buzzfeed, Mother Jones).

On the whole, Kapur’s account, if tangentially related to the truth, should encourage conservatives that Cantor’s demise came at the precise time it was needed. If it kills these bills then it was a victory. If it makes unprincipled dealmaking by GOP congressmen a capital offense then it was a seminal political event.

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