Opinion: GOP’s bad behavior rewarded

The bottom line on the Senate’s deal to avoid the “nuclear option” is that the GOP got rewarded for bad behavior.

Democrats have sacrificed two qualified nominees to the National Labor Relations Board, Richard Griffin and Sharon Block, to make the deal. In exchange, they got the GOP to allow votes on the president’s nominees for head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Labor Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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All of these nominees, no matter how controversial, would have been given an up-or-down majority vote at any time prior to the last two years. But during this most recent period, Republicans have been setting records for filibusters and party-line votes to obstruct and paralyze the Senate. 

Remember that only 17 of 45 Republicans agreed to this deal. They opposed even a temporary return to normal. Most apparently think it is a better idea to increase the partisanship, paralysis and obstruction that have already taken the Senate to a historic low for passing legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)  remains politically allied with Tea Party Republicans in justifying any strategy to obstruct President Obama. The strategy is a winner, at least in narrow terms, because it is red meat for conservative talk radio hosts, GOP activists and donors.

Tea Party conservative Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) showed contempt for members of his party who agreed to the bipartisan deal to avert blowing up the Senate. 

“Senate Republicans preserved the right to surrender in the future,” he said.

That angry line of thinking among Republicans was evident last week when former Vice President Cheney’s daughter announced her campaign to unseat a three-term Republican senator with a 93 percent conservative voting record, Michael Enzi of Wyoming.  In a video announcing her run, Liz Cheney said: “Instead of cutting deals with the president’s allies, we should be opposing them every step of the way.”

Her comments came days after Enzi stood with the majority of his fellow Republican senators in opposition to the vote that avoided the “nuclear option.” And Enzi won his last race in Wyoming with three-quarters of the total vote.

Yet Enzi finds himself targeted in a GOP primary by Cheney as too much of a “squish.” That is the derogatory label Cruz pinned to Republicans who were willing to oppose a filibuster in opposition to gun control legislation. 

And Enzi, by his own admission, is worried that Cheney’s famously conservative dad and hard-right positions will make her an effective fundraiser. Enzi recently admitted to The Washington Post that “money raising has always been a problem for me.”

Enzi’s predicament illustrates why his fellow Republicans have little interest in compromise. Political and fundraising rewards go to Republicans who endlessly criticize the twice-elected Obama, use filibusters to obstruct the president’s nominees, demean any Republican who opens the door to compromise, and in the case of House Republicans, vote time after futile time to repeal ObamaCare.

That is why the politics of obstruction remain more attractive to Republicans than allowing the government to work properly. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last week the economic recovery has been slowed by Congress’ refusal to stimulate the economy and too much focus on taxes and spending cuts. The focus on taxes and spending cuts is a preoccupation of Republicans.

Despite the deal to avoid the “nuclear option,” there is no sign of Republicans opening the door to compromises that will lead to economic growth. 

With an October deadline to pass funding bills for next year and extend the debt ceiling, there is little optimism that Republicans will shift from a strategy of fiscal cliffs and obstruction. And an obstructionist Congress is also a threat to set off alarms throughout the economy by filibustering the president’s upcoming nominee to replace Bernanke.

The Wall Street Journal quoted Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) last week as lowering expectations for a new era of cooperation after averting total partisan meltdown: “We didn’t solve any fiscal issues.”

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), one of the 17 Republicans who supported the compromise to avert the “nuclear option,” told the Journal there remains a “big philosophical difference” between Republicans and Democrats on allowing the sequester to continue across-the-board spending cuts next year. This is, of course, also part of the bigger debates over the appropriate size and role of the federal government.

In a statement after the Senate reached its deal, Obama took a shot at the current GOP brand of take-no-prisoners, no compromise politics. 

“Over the last two years, I’ve nominated leaders to fill important positions required to do the work of the American people, only to have those positions remain unfilled — not because the nominees were somehow unqualified but for purely political reasons,” he said.

That is why what happened last week was a reward for the GOP’s bad behavior and offered no promise of better behavior in the future.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.