Meet the New Speaker, Same as the Old Speaker
One of the most poignant songs from the 1960s counter-culture movement came from the Rock band, The Who, titled, “We Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which was released in 1971. In the lyrics, the author, Pete Townshend, offers a skeptics view of political revolution.
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
And that brings us to the Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson (R-LA), who ascended to the position through the destruction of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, considered too moderate for many America First Republicans in the House. Through the use of a recently altered provision known as “motion to vacate,” Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) forced a vote that McCarthy lost, which ultimately led to the election of Johnson.
The vote to elect Johnson was unanimous on the Republican side and included Gaetz, who said, “The swamp is on the run, MAGA is ascendant and if you don’t think that moving from Kevin McCarthy to MAGA Mike Johnson shows the ascendance of this movement, and where the power of the Republican Party truly lies, then you’re not paying attention.”
Johnson came with a reputation as a staunch conservative who opposes same-sex marriage, is adamantly pro-life, is a climate change skeptic, supported Trumps’ travel bans, supports tax cuts and is a staunch believer in deficit reduction.
Same as the Old Boss
Considering Johnson’s solid conservative credentials, it was surprising, if not shocking, when he joined with Democrats to pass a continuing resolution (CR) that averted another looming government shutdown. The final vote was 336-95, with 209 Democrats voting for the bill and 93 Republicans opposing it. The essence of the CR was to maintain current spending levels without any major budget cut concessions.
Commenting on the passage of the bill, Johnson said, “This two-step continuing resolution is a necessary bill to place House Republicans in the best position to fight for conservative victories. The bill will stop the absurd holiday-season omnibus tradition of massive, loaded up spending bills introduced right before the Christmas recess.”
Interestingly, all eight of the Republicans who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy voted against the new Speakers’ continuing resolution.
When he was confirmed, the praise for Johnson as someone who would uphold conservative principles and discontinue the annoying practice of caving in to leftist demands was effusive. Yet, once Johnson offered up the CR instead of the individual appropriations bills Gaetz and the other members of the Freedom Caucus sought, he (Gaetz) quickly changed his tune and issued an ominous warning to Johnson.
“Mike Johnson and Kevin McCarthy both promised us a path to single-subject spending bills. In seven months of Kevin McCarthy being Speaker, he only delivered one of them. If Mike Johnson is only able to deliver one of them over seven months, then he would likely face a motion to vacate.”
An Irreparable Stalemate
The ongoing issues that form the basis of the omnibus and continuing resolution method of budgeting stem from the Democrats need to continue pandemic-level spending, and the Republicans desire to address the staggering $34 trillion national debt, which is likely to cost the U.S. $1 trillion in interest in 2023. While those members of Congress with a rudimentary understanding of economics recognize the financial train wreck that’s brewing, Democrats don’t care. There is an election in 2024, and their “free money” constituency is in no mood to hear their benefits will be cut.
With a razor-thin majority in the House and a minority in the Senate, the threat of a government shutdown is the only viable weapon the Republicans have to address the irresponsible spending Democrats established as a budget floor during the pandemic, but woke leftists refuse to give ground. Every time the budget battle reaches critical mass, Republicans back down for fear of bad press that will cost them elections.
It seems clear that the budget disaster will not be addressed before it devolves into a full-blown crisis, since neither party wants to face the consequences of responsible government. Instead, when the U.S. experiences a deep 2008-style recession, or worse, a sovereign debt crisis, they will blame each other and hope their base believes it was the other party’s fault.
In the meantime, the Republicans could clone Ronald Reagan and elect him speaker, but it wouldn’t matter. Unless there is a definitive mandate in some future election, or we sink into an ugly recession, whichever Republican is Speaker of the House will find themselves caught in the budget vice that continues to tighten until the only option is capitulation to the irresponsible spending whims of the Democrats.
Mike Johnson just learned that lesson the hard way. There is no easy path going forward.