Steve Scalise is a disaster: A breakdown of GOP whip's legislative shambles

Controversial Republican leader botched a key budget vote, adding yet another embarrassing failure to his tenure

Published March 20, 2015 10:14AM (EDT)

  (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

In a development that should shock absolutely no one, the House Republicans’ days-old efforts to push their budget through to passage has already gone off the rails. Last night, the House Budget Committee failed to approve the Republican budget plan owing to internal divisions over defense spending, leaving the whole process stalled before it could even really begin.

As National Journal reports, the GOP leadership wanted to shore up support from Republican “hawks” by adding an amendment that would boost defense spending without any offsets. Committee chairman Tom Price resisted, arguing that an increase in spending that wasn’t paid for would be opposed by conservatives on the committee who won’t tolerate any growth in the deficit. The leadership told Price to go pound sand and pushed ahead anyway:

Skeptical of [Price’s] claims, Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry went over his head and checked with committee members on their own. They found that, according to their tally, an amendment would be able to pass, the aides said. So around 7 p.m., the committee released an amendment from Rep. Todd Rokita that appeared to be crafted to appease defense hawks' concerns.

You’ll never believe what happened next! Scalise got the whip count completely wrong, and resistance from fiscal conservatives left the committee trapped in an irreconcilable stalemate. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy made a late effort to corral the necessary votes, but to no avail. Once again, chaos reigns for the new “show we can govern” Republican Congress.

And, once again, we find Steve Scalise teeing up another embarrassing failure for the Republican leadership. After Tea Party eccentric David Brat took down Eric Cantor during last summer’s primary season, Scalise was promoted to majority whip as a way of mollifying angry right-wingers who felt the leadership wasn’t conservative enough. But almost immediately after he took the job, Scalise and the leadership were dealt a humiliating defeat by conservatives who rallied to scuttle legislation dealing with the border crisis.

In the months since, the leadership has put together a long and growing list of failed votes and stalled bills. Scalise’s latest botched whip count comes just three weeks after the Homeland Security funding debacle, in which the House leadership’s attempt to pass a short-term funding bill to stave off a government shutdown was sabotaged by yet another conservative revolt. It’s getting to be that the surest sign of whether a key vote will fail is if Steve Scalise insists there are enough votes for passage.

To be fair, Scalise is dealing with an extremely difficult situation. The leadership wants to demonstrate that the Republicans who run the legislature are at least competent enough to perform the most basic functions of government, but they’re saddled with a fractious and largely ungovernable caucus that doesn’t much care about governing and doesn’t give a thin damn what the leadership wants. That said, Scalise is being consistently outworked by the right-wingers in the GOP caucus who only want to pursue the most conservative outcomes possible. While Scalise is bumbling about and badly misjudging the attitudes of his colleagues, the hyperconservative House Freedom Caucus is enforcing strict discipline among its members and forcing the leadership’s hand on legislation.

Anyway, the budget finally passed through the Budget Committee this morning, and the controversial amendment to boost defense spending was left out. What remains to be seen is whether the plan can now muster enough support to clear a vote on the House floor, given that the fight between the defense hawks and the deficit scolds remains unresolved. It will be Scalise’s job to navigate that dispute and collect the necessary votes, which should worry the leadership given that he’s already proven himself unequal to the task.

By Simon Maloy

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