Last week I wondered if Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander was stepping down from Republican leadership because he wasn’t enough of an attack dog to make the rest of his party happy. Well, it looks like I was wrong about that, as he is now one of the key leaders in the “Democrats want a shutdown” GOP cry.
Appearing on CNN, Alexander accused the Democrats of “game playing and chest thumping” when they refused to pass the House bill that would give the required FEMA disaster aid money — as long as multiple environmental and green energy programs were cut to cover the costs. “He manufactured a crisis all week about disaster relief when there was no crisis. Everyone knows we’ll pay every penny of disaster aid that the president declares and FEMA certifies. The House settled on a bill that would do that and the Senate should have passed it.”
Meanwhile, Virginia Senator Mark Warner says that it’s the Tea Party House members who are so obsessed with their all or nothing agenda that they’re constantly willing to crash the government over it. “There is a group, and I do believe it is centered in the House in terms of some of these tea party Republicans, who say on every issue, ‘We’re going to make this a make or break.’”
It’s true that the Tea Party Republicans held up the first House bill, voting it down along with House Democrats, although for totally different reasons — they said the bill didn’t cut enough spending to offset the disaster aid. Once Speaker of the House John Boehner responded to them by providing even more cuts, they finally gave it the support necessary to pass the House.
How bad have the standoff fights started to make Washington look? Even Tea Party spokesman and presidential candidate Herman Cain, fresh off a surprise straw poll win in Florida, thinks the party should just cool it and let the disaster aid pass. “I would make sure that FEMA got the money it needed, and if I had to go find the offsets later, go find it later. Stop playing with people’s tragedies — these are real people we’re talking about.”
But there is a possibility that for once, the Democrats won’t just cave at the last moment and push through the GOP’s requests. As Ezra Klein notes, the fallout from a shut down this time is much smaller than the last, and if they give in to Republican “fiscal brinksmanship…constant threats of shutdowns and defaults,” they may never have the ability to negotiate again.