In the end, it seems, everyone was unhappy with how the recent government shutdown and Congress’ dangerous flirtation with default played out.
But not everyone was unhappy in the same way — particularly on the GOP side, where the infighting, name-calling and a general air of dysfunction stood in harsh contrast to the Democrats’ united front. That definitely goes for the state’s congressional delegation.
Wednesday, as the vote to finally reopen government and avert a collision with the debt ceiling drew close, U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, an ally of beleaguered House Speaker John Boehner and the only Louisiana Republican to back the final agreement, aimed his frustration squarely at his colleagues.
“I think there are members who are in complete denial about their responsibility to govern and to try to use conservative principles to get the best possible legislative package we can get,” he told the National Journal. While he didn’t name names or mention the Tea Party, he accused 20 to 30 intransigent members who repeatedly thwarted Boehner’s efforts of essentially derailing the party’s agenda and even putting the House’s GOP majority at risk.
To reiterate his point, Boustany’s office issued a news release pointedly headlined “Boustany Refused to Jeopardize Nation’s Economy.”
Among those on the other end of that implicit comparison was fellow Louisiana U.S. Rep. John Fleming, the most outspokenly oppositional member of the state’s House delegation. Fleming got basically none of what he wanted out of the debacle, but in a USA Today op-ed , he still defended his willingness to padlock government offices, and perhaps risk the nation’s full faith and credit, in the hope of derailing the Affordable Care Act.
“Not only were attempts at defunding Obamacare worth the effort, they remain far from over,” he wrote. “While the political debate has ended for the moment, like any prizefight there are many rounds, and this fight didn’t end last night.”
Well, maybe it was productive for him anyway. While polls show a clear national backlash against the GOP’s tactics, Fleming, who emerged as something of a spokesman for the cause, at least got some mileage out of the misery.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter also came up short, but he, too, earned his share of exposure for pushing the symbolically powerful but intellectually dishonest argument that members of Congress and their staffs are getting some sort of special treatment because the government will continue to contribute the employer share of their health insurance costs. An Affordable Care Act provision authored by Republican U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley requires them to get coverage from the exchanges set up to insure those without workplace-based coverage.
In fact, while Vitter claimed his failed amendment to the spending measure would have leveled the playing field, it actually would have singled out congressional staffers for unusually harsh treatment by eliminating a valuable benefit available to pretty much everyone else who works for a large employer.
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, a candidate in next year’s Senate race against Mary Landrieu, at first hesitated to jump on his party’s defund bandwagon but wound up fully on board, on that and on the Vitter amendment. Campaign politics likely left him no choice, but his action may wind up hurting his standing among moderates while still not fully quieting conservative rumblings that he’s not a true enough believer.
As head of the 175-member Republican Study Committee, which represents the House’s conservative caucus, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise was heavily involved in negotiations throughout the shutdown. In the end, though, his role was overshadowed by the Senate Republicans who finally cut a deal, the House leadership that supported it even though many members did not, and outside conservative groups such as Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth, which announced that those who supported the final bill would earn negative ratings on their public scorecards.
About the only Louisiana Republican lawmaker who emerged from the ugly situation with reason to smile is Rodney Alexander, who cited Congress’s toxic partisanship when he announced his resignation over the summer.
Alexander packed up his office and cast his last vote in late September. By the time the government ran out of money to keep its doors open on Oct. 1, it was officially someone else’s problem.
Stephanie Grace can be contacted at email@example.com.