The Debt Ceiling Crisis

10.17.13

Inside the GOP Surrender

The Republican strategy of obstruction collapsed in a late deal that averted default and re-opened the government. Ben Jacobs reports on how the party surrendered.

The government shutdown did not end with a bang or even a whimper. Instead, it ended with a stenographer screaming about the freemasons.

After the Senate approved the Reid-McConnell deal by a vote of 81-18, the bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling quickly moved over to the House, skipping all procedural hurdles as it raced towards approval. It was finally passed by a vote of 285-144, with every Democrat voting in favor but more than 60% of House Republicans still opposed.

Video screenshot

An assessment of how other countries reported on the U.S. government shutdown.

The final approval of the bill was punctuated by a House stenographer who, as the vote was winding down, ascended the podium and started shouting. The stenographer, who has been identified by other outlets as Dianne Reidy, "had kind of a crazed look" in her eyes according to Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX).  The microphones in the chamber were off during the vote so that what she was saying was unintelligible on the floor. However, after she was escorted out of the House chamber by several staffers, she shouted: "He will not be mocked!" referring, presumably, to God. She went on to proclaim that the United States "was not one nation under God, had it been, the Constitution would not have been written by freemasons. They go against God. You cannot serve two masters. Praise be to God. Lord Jesus Christ."

Her outburst visibly disturbed a number of members and staffers, including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), both of whom ran out of the chamber after her.

Perhaps the crazed scene was a fitting climax to a 16-day impasse that shut down the federal government and pushed the U.S. to the brink of default. There were plenty of other surprises last night; perhaps the biggest contained in the bill itself was the inclusion of an extra $2 billion to fund the Olmstead Dam and Lock in Kentucky. The addition of this appropriation prompted Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to rage, calling it disgusting. The provision being included was credited to the chair and ranking member of the relevant Appropriations subcommittee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Strangely though, the committee's chair, Barbara Mikulski, had no idea that it was included in the final bill.

Another surprise was the support John Boehner was getting from the most conservative members of his caucus. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), one of the leaders of the attempted coup to oust Boehner as Speaker in January, was effusive about Boehner's leadership. "I think he did a good job on this one and that is not something I have said often in the past," said Huelskamp. He praised Boehner for sticking with the Republicans in his conference "all the way to the end."

The rest of the night played out as many had predicted. The strategy of Ted Cruz and much of the House Republicans to tie defunding Obamacare with keeping the government open failed.  Rep Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) seemed to suggest there was never any cohesive plan at all on this from the beginning. "Well, I don't know if you characterize it as a strategy," said Fortenberry. "It might have been a momentary decision of a few that sort of carried into a momentum for the institution, in other words, got imposed on the institution. It was not prudential ground to fight on."

Some members were optimistic that the near-default would prove an educational experience

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) felt that he had to grudgingly support the deal. He said he was voting for it "not because it is so great but it's only thing in front of us that avoids the potential crisis from hitting the debt ceiling." Cramer bemoaned the fact that GOP's strategy seemed to be "swinging for the fences instead of a single." He felt confident that he had done everything he could to repeal Obamacare though.  A Club for Growth endorsed candidate in 2012, Cramer thought that repealing the Affordable Care Act when Republicans only control the House was a very difficult task. "The reality is Club for Growth and Freedom Works didn't win enough seats in the United States Senate or the presidency to dictate these outcomes" said Cramer. "Given that we have to take a more pragmatic approach [but] the goal is the same."

In the Senate, Lindsey Graham and John McCain found themselves in rare disagreement on what poker analogy to use to describe McConnell's predicament. Graham thought the Senate Minority Leader had a pair of twos while McCain thought McConnell had no cards at all.  Both agreed that the deal was the best that could be made under the circumstances. Graham expressed his disappointment with politicians who he felt created false expectations that Obamacare would be repealed. "I don't think you're helping the cause by creating expectations that can't be delivered," the South Carolina senator said.

In contrast, Democrats were just fed up with the entire standoff. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) said "What's frustrating about this is that this shows how unnecessary this all was, nothing has changed from September 29. What has changed is people went through three weeks of grief for some political exercise."

At the end of the night, the members rushed out in hopes of making it home to see their families. Already each chamber was working out the details of the conference committee on the budget mandated by the deal, which will have to come up with a compromise by December 13----the Senate named its members just before midnight.

Some members were optimistic that the near-default would prove an educational experience. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) said, "I think we learned a lot in this process and you are the sum of your experiences so hopefully we keep learning from that."  Cramer reflected on a favorite scene from a movie about a New York to Los Angeles road race called Gumball Rally, "when Franco the Italian race car driver reached into his Fiat and ripped his rear view mirror and said 'what's behind me is not important.'"

Moving forward, what is important is that Congress passes another continuing resolution to fund the government by January 15, otherwise we're on a countdown to another shutdown.