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New Governing Coalition Emerges

McConnell and Reid teamed up to pass the cromnibus. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
McConnell and Reid teamed up to pass the cromnibus. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In the wake of the “cromnibus,” a new governing coalition may have emerged in Washington.  

For the first time in eight years, it doesn’t necessarily include Nancy Pelosi.  

It does include Steny H. Hoyer.  

The coalition doesn’t seem to need Sens. Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren or Jeff Sessions.  

But it does need the more moderate wing of Democrats personified by Hoyer, the minority whip, who helped pass the compromise forged by Speaker John A. Boehner, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with appropriators Harold Rogers and Barbara A. Mikulski, among others.  

Most importantly, the new governing coalition includes President Barack Obama.  

The hard right and the hard left ended up out in the cold last week — free to raise their fists and their profiles and make a ruckus, but ultimately powerless to stop the cromnibus.  

The deal represents a return — at least for a week — to the fabled establishment Washington dealmaking of yore, warts and all, like it or loathe it. It’s a return that could put the “do nothing” label back on the congressional shelf — with Republicans and the president eyeing deals next year on trade and taxes, in addition to keeping the government open for business after four years of serial shutdown and default dramas. The cromnibus’s 1,603 pages are packed with special interest provisions sought by big businesses — some negotiated for months and voted on by the full House — others slipped in via backroom negotiations with the backing of lobbyists.  

When it came to the House floor on Dec. 11, the credibility of many a K Street powerhouse was on the line. So was the clout of the White House and the speaker after a difficult year. Likewise in the Senate, Reid and McConnell managed to hold the center on a bipartisan, 56-40, vote with 21 Democrats, 18 Republicans and independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont voting “no .”  

Liberals and conservatives have plenty of reasons to hate the cromnibus. It’s a deep, messy compromise — exactly what you might expect from a divided Congress and a president willing to strike a deal in a town fueled in part by the filling of campaign coffers.  

The Senate drama late on Dec. 13 could be a preview of what’s to come in 2015 , with Cruz forcing his fellow Republicans into an awkward vote on immigration to the consternation of many of his colleagues.  

Many Republicans blamed Cruz and Mike Lee, R-Utah, for easing the path for as many as 24 Democratic nominations by forcing a weekend session for the sake of what amounted to a show vote.  

“I think most Republicans think that Christmas came early for Democrats,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. “I haven’t seen Harry [Reid] smile this much in years, and I didn’t particularly like it.”  

Graham offered advice to the Texas Republican, saying he “has got to figure out who he is and what he wants to be.”  

Cruz argued Reid would’ve held the Senate in session either way. And he’s not planning on easing up on McConnell and company when Homeland Security funding expires on Feb. 27.  

“Next year we will have the opportunity to take Republican leaders at their word,” the Texas Republican said. “The leadership in both the House and the Senate have committed that the purpose of this so-called cromnibus is to fund the federal government and then to set up a limited spending restriction on the funding for the Department of Homeland Security … in February of next year to stop the president’s illegal amnesty.”  

Some 22 Republicans voted for Cruz’s point of order, which contended the House-passed cromnibus was unconstitutional. Twenty others voted with McConnell — splitting the party in two.  

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., blasted Cruz.  

“I value the oath I took to support and defend the Constitution too much to exploit it for political expediency,” he said. “The Constitution gives Congress the power to fund the government so to assert that the House-passed spending bill is unconstitutional is not only inaccurate but irresponsible.”  

Nine Republican senators voted with Cruz to call the bill unconstitutional and then voted to pass it — providing the margin of victory and suggesting the Cruz caucus may be smaller than it might first appear. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who will be the majority whip in the next Congress, said Republicans will act next year on the issue.  

“There was nothing unconstitutional about the appropriation bill, and so people like me voted ‘no’ even though we’re as outraged as any about the president’s executive action. … So, this is a beginning not the end.”  

Cruz said for now there is just “a procedural division” between him and Republican leaders.  

McConnell expressed relief at the end of the night.  

“I’m glad we passed the cromni, and that we are heading toward completing the session,” he said.  

In the House, the active opposition of Pelosi threw a new wrinkle into what has been a serial Washington melodrama since Boehner first banged the speaker’s gavel in 2011. Boehner has never been able to marshal 218 Republicans for a major budget deal that could get the president’s signature — necessitating Democratic votes.  

That has meant Pelosi riding to the rescue again and again.  

But last week, a different coalition emerged. One tied closer to Hoyer, Pelosi’s longtime rival, and an all-out, if late, White House whip operation.  

While the Maryland Democrat’s staff denied he was whipping for the bill — even as Pelosi’s denied she was whipping against it — he spoke forcefully on the House floor for its passage while she eviscerated the bill in opposition.  

Hoyer’s argument — and Obama’s — carried the day with 57 Democrats.  

A similar dynamic could blossom on GOP agenda items the president hopes to sign — especially trade legislation and a tax overhaul. Hoyer has always had a more moderate streak than Pelosi and warmer ties to the business community.  

But senior House and Senate Republican aides cautioned the cromnibus would not be the model for the new Republican-controlled Congress. Boehner and McConnell are promising an open appropriations process and plan to move through regular order, for starters.  

“This was the last vote cleaning up the mess created by Sen. Reid’s do-nothing strategy in the Senate. Totally different dynamic next year,” the House aide said.  

For the White House, the package isn’t a slam dunk, but it funds many of the president’s priorities, and leaves his sweeping executive actions on immigration and climate change unscathed without a government shutdown. The Affordable Care Act escaped with a relatively minor nip-and-tuck.  

That trifecta was touted by Press Secretary Josh Earnest last week as the White House whipped Democrats to support the bill.  

“This is the kind of compromise that the president has been seeking from Republicans for years now and they’re finally starting to do it,” Earnest said on MSNBC ahead of the House vote.  

The loosening of restrictions on derivatives trading by federally insured Wall Street banks was the deal-breaker for Pelosi and Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat.  

Both took to the floor to rally opposition citing the 2008 financial crisis — with Warren issuing an epic throwdown against Citigroup, and ex-Citi employees in the Obama administration — and promising to fight to break up the giant bank and others like it.  

The White House effectively shrugged.  

Higher campaign finance limits also didn’t phase the White House.  

In the end, the White House was willing to accept any number of other riders it would have otherwise opposed as part of the compromise: provisions that will feed children more white potatoes and salt, undermining a push by first lady Michelle Obama for healthier food; a provision that will let truckers drive longer hours without sleep; a provision that will almost certainly keep the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, open for another year.  

On Monday, the White House was looking to repair the rift in Obama’s party, with Earnest seeking to dismiss emerging Democratic splits as ones over tactics, not principle — and calling Warren somebody the president can work with.  

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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