Radical Housers Have Taken Government Hostage

1009_House Republicans Speaker Battle
U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz talks to reporters after a Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 9. U.S. House Republicans met behind closed doors to discuss next steps in their internal leadership battle on Friday morning, the day after the front-runner to lead their chamber abruptly quit the speaker's race. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

The House Republicans are in full implosion mode, a reflection of the deep and unresolved—and maybe impossible to resolve—schism in the party between radicals who want more confrontation on the debt ceiling and the budget, and bedrock conservatives who want to find ways to show that they can govern while holding both houses of Congress.

Right now, it is clear that the radicals have the upper hand. Many were recruited to run by the "Young Guns" (Kevin McCarthy, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan) and told to use the debt ceiling issue as the focus of their campaigns in 2010.

The Young Guns expected that these newcomers could be co-opted into their establishment; instead, they became the co-opters, and McCarthy is now the second victim of the uprising after Cantor.

The anger of the radicals at the establishment—over their belief that they were seduced and abandoned—promises to bring Obama to his knees. It promises to slash government as we know it, to repeal Obamacare dropped or broken, and has been amplified by talk radio, blogs and social media, and now by the leading presidential candidates. And the House majority is left with no easy way out.

The best outcome? John Boehner, a victim in his own right, could thumb his nose at the radicals in his lame-duck period, and bring a blockbuster package to the floor: a two year budget deal, raising the caps; an increase in the debt ceiling along with institutionalization of the McConnell Rule to prevent future debt ceiling debacles; Ex-Im Bank re-authorization; and robust infrastructure improvements.

He could say, "It is there to get 218 votes, and if it is via 199 Democrats and 20 Republicans, so be it."

The worst case? We get a Speaker Hensarling or Jordan, and a quick confrontation over the debt limit and the spending bills, resulting in a breach in the debt ceiling and a series of government shutdowns that threaten the well-being and future of the economy.

In between is a long period in limbo, drifting instead of governing.

Norman Ornstein is a long-time observer of Congress and politics. He served as codirector of the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project and participates in AEI's Election Watch series. He also served as a senior counselor to the Continuity of Government Commission. Mr. Ornstein led a working group of scholars and practitioners that helped shape the law, known as McCain-Feingold, that reformed the campaign financing system. He was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. His many books include The Permanent Campaign and Its Future (AEI Press, 2000); The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, with Thomas E. Mann (Oxford University Press, 2006, named by The Washington Post one of the best books of 2006 and called by The Economist "a classic"); and, most recently, TheNew York Times bestseller, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, also with Tom Mann, published in May 2012 by Basic Books. It was named as one of 2012's best books on politics by The New Yorker and one of the best books of the year by TheWashington Post.