Do-Nothing Dave Brat Does Nothing Again
It was your typical Wednesday night in Washington. There were fundraisers, insiders were conspiring to steal the GOP nomination from Donald Trump, work was being completed on bills in Congress, and Dave Brat was voting no on yet another bill that he helped write.
Many have asked me why I’m so hard on Dave Brat. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not because I hate freedom, or because I love Eric Cantor. It’s not because I’m part of some establishment conspiracy (at least, not on this issue), and it’s not because I want to balloon the deficit or even because I think I know more than he does (someone actually accused me of that).
The real reason is that he does stuff like he did on Wednesday night.
For those who may have missed it – and that’s pretty much everybody but policy wonks like me who do this for a living – on Wednesday night, the House Budget Committee approved a draft House Budget Resolution. The Budget Resolution is the first step in “regular order” when it comes to determining how much money Congress will spend in a given fiscal year. The Budget limits the money the Appropriations Committee can allocate, and it has to be completed by May 15 of each year. If it doesn’t, House rules allow the Appropriations Committee to proceed without a budget. The Budget Resolution gives Congress a chance to limit itself, and since it’s just a joint resolution, the President doesn’t have to sign it. If done right, it can help constrain government spending.
Brat has been working on this Budget Resolution for a while, and up until the Tuesday vote, he was telling people that he was trying to “get to yes” on the budget. His press crew proudly put up an article from CQ Roll Call on their website that goes into great detail about his thinking on the budget, confirming that “as the panel began to craft a budget resolution, he emerged as a conservative who wanted to get to yes.” The article was written on March 10. The Budget Committee released the draft bill to the public on Tuesday March 15, and began marking up the bill on Wednesday morning, March 16, at 10 AM.
How do I know that Brat worked on the budget? Besides the fact that he’s on the committee and he claimed to be doing so in the CQ article his staff linked to, there’s this gem that’s included in the guts of the Resolution. It’s on page 85 of the Resolution, if you want to look at the full PDF. For those who don’t want to wade through a hundred pages of junk, here’s a screen capture of it:
It’s relatively rare for a Member of Congress to be called out BY NAME in the text of any bill, including budget resolutions. This resolution calls out four Representatives by name – Speaker Ryan, Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte, Tom McClintock of California and Dave Brat.
The text there is giving Brat credit for being one of 17 people introduced a joint resolution calling for a balanced budget amendment. There is absolutely no reason to include him by name in the text of this legislation and the same goes for Tom McClintock. Except, of course, that both are on the Committee, so both could be expected to point out to the staff drafting the language that they were one of the 17 members who put up a Balanced Budget Amendment and ask for credit.
As an aside, dropping a Balanced Budget Amendment bill is something that’s as standard for freshmen Republicans in the House as getting lost in the Capitol. It’s only a matter of time before it happens. Literally every Congress dozens of new members (and some old ones like Bob Goodlatte) propose a Balanced Budget Amendment resolution. There’s no reason to even claim credit for doing it anymore. It always happens, and they always go nowhere, although Bob Goodlatte holds the record for getting closest to getting one passed (a point that’s acknowledged in the next paragraph of the Budget here).
Here’s the important difference though – Brat is one of three members mentioned by name in the Budget, and one of two on the Committee (meaning one of only two who could actually vote for the Resolution with their name in it) to get credit for something in the text of the resolution. Tom McClintock, was the other.
McClintock voted for the Resolution, along with 19 other Republican members of the Committee. Brat voted no, along with all 14 Democrats.
There are few people that legislators hate more than the guy who works on a bill with you, gets things he wants included – especially things like this plug, that are outside the norm – and then votes against the bill. It doesn’t matter what his excuse is, because everybody has excuses. Hiding behind your constituents is the oldest and most tired excuse in the book. Everybody is going to have some people who are against everything, and some people who are for everything. If you don’t plan on voting for a bill, you shouldn’t work on it and you shouldn’t ask for things to be added to it. If you do that, you’re almost obligated to vote for the bill – at least, if you’re a stand up guy or gal.
Brat claims that he heard from his constituents in two town halls that the budget was unpopular. How those constituents could have possibly known about what was in the budget other than what Brat told them I have no idea – the text wasn’t available to the public until the evening of Tuesday, March 15, and they began marking it up in Committee on Wednesday, March 16, barely 14 hours later. Whether you’re the average joe or the average lobbyist, nobody at those town halls had read the budget or had any idea what was in it (and even now, almost nobody knows the actual numbers because they weren’t included, just the policy text). So how they could come to a reasoned conclusion that Brat could rely upon in his decision-making is beyond me. If Brat poo-poos the budget to his constituents, of course they’re going to tell him to vote no.
What Brat and some of his Freedom Caucus allies don’t seem to understand is that they are no-voting themselves into oblivion. They can pretend that they’re standing on principle, but they aren’t making any progress addressing the issues they think they were sent to Washington to address. And by constantly voting no, even after efforts have been made to placate their concerns, Brat and his colleagues are simply becoming an obstacle to be crushed in the path forward for any piece of legislation. There’s no reason to negotiate with them, because even after negotiations you still won’t get their votes. So the negotiations will eventually just cease, and Speaker Ryan and the rest of the Republican conference will just start ignoring them. Republicans will assume that Freedom Caucus members, not merely including but especially Dave Brat, are never going to be getable votes, so instead of trying to find ways to win them over, they’ll just find ways to roll them.
Brat has now been in Congress for almost two years. At some point, even he is going to have to look around and wonder what he’s doing there. He’s accomplished nothing. He has no friends or natural allies, just those who tolerate him. He’s not respected. None of the things he ran to do – stop the runaway spending, reform immigration, or the like – are anywhere close to being accomplished. If they do get accomplished at some point while he’s still in Congress, his constant bucking of the party and his unreliability for anything other than a no vote will ensure he’s on the sidelines watching as those things get done.
At some point, somebody he trusts (and that’s definitely not me) needs to take him aside and explain the facts of life to him. Otherwise, he’s going to remain what he’s been since he got in Washington – a cautionary tale to the establishment. At least, when he’s not being used as the punchline to a joke.