Despite the fact that the Ryan-Murray budget deal passed the House with overwhelming support, it was not a slam dunk in the Senate as of late last week. Without Paul Ryan’s strong influence, individual GOP senators were leery of the deal. Even the defense hawks view this deal as ‘too little too late.’
The Senate whip count began with only one Republican – John McCain – vocally supporting the deal. Moreover, it’s not a sure thing that there won’t be any Democrat defections either. On Sunday, Senator Dick Durbin was worried he wouldn’t get 60 votes for the deal. He candidly noted that “a handful of members of the Senate are vying for the presidency in years to come and are thinking about this vote in that context and others are, frankly, afraid of this new force, the Tea Party force, the Heritage Foundation force, that is threatening seven out of the 12 senators running for reelection.”
Senator Durbin is absolutely correct. Primary challenges matter, and that is why McConnell and Cornyn were forced to step away from this bad deal. But there is a huge difference between opposing the deal out of principle and quietly voting no to save their hinds back home.
The current dynamic in the Senate as it relates to the Ryan-Murray whip count represents the consummate opportunity for leadership from the top. Democrats have not fully secured 60 votes to pass this awful deal. If McConnell and Cornyn really felt the way we do about this bill, they would launch a counter-whip operation to convince members on the fence to vote no. Unfortunately, they have reverted to the ‘hope yes, vote no’ mode. They really want the bill to pass, but they are too scared of their primary challengers. Consequently, they are sitting back and allowing Democrats to pick off members of their conference one-by-one.
Senators Ron Johnson, Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, and Richard Burr have since announced their plans to vote for cloture over the weekend. This is what happens when there is no leadership at the top. We are letting a completely winnable vote slip away from us.
It’s quite appropriate for the Senate to end this year’s session with a vote like this. Throughout the entire year, McConnell and Cornyn have pursued a policy of hope yes vote no. Ever since Matt Bevin considered storming the caste early this year, McConnell has moved all the way to the right in his voting record. But you can count on one hand the number of times he’s whipped a vote for the Republican position. This vacuum of leadership has ostensibly granted Harry Reid a defacto supermajority.
What’s even more appalling is that McConnell is rewarding Harry Reid for blowing up the Senate with his refusal to work against the Democrat budget bill.
We will never advance conservatism through the U.S. Senate unless we elect leaders who will vote the conservative position and fight like hell for it. Hope yes/vote no is not a winning strategy.