Opinion: Same old story for GOP on Capitol Hill

Back from a holiday break, Republicans in Congress kicked off the New Year by immediately fighting with each other — again — over spending plans for 2024, raising the specter of a possible partial government shutdown starting on Jan. 19.

Some conservatives are furious about a $1.59 trillion government funding outline negotiated by U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, who won that post in October after an internal Republican rebellion over spending.

“Washington must stop spending money it doesn’t have,” said U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens.

“This deal is garbage,” fumed U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Tex., who said if the final funding bills don’t include GOP policy changes — Johnson might need to be ousted. “I don’t know why we would keep him as Speaker.”

Those complaints by conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus left one Georgia Republican seeing red.

“They’re not happy with anything,” said U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton. “The Speaker is doing the best he can with the situation he’s got.”

Since taking charge of the House a year ago, Republicans have struggled mightily on the budget. Calls for spending cuts sound so simple, but delivering them with a small House majority is not easy.

“Are we learning that negotiating with the Democrats in the White House and Senate with a slim majority is hard and you can’t get everything you want, no matter who is in the Speaker’s office?” asked U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, R-Jackson.

That kind of pragmatic approach is not normal within GOP circles, as some Republicans truly believe that if they shut down the government, Democrats will eventually buckle and agree to GOP demands for deep cuts.

But Republicans have come up empty-handed in government shutdown showdowns over the past 30 years.

So, what is the key to lasting policy change at the federal level? That answer is simple — it’s large majorities in Congress, plus winning the White House.

In the last 100 years, Democrats had 60 or more Senate seats after a dozen elections. The GOP high water mark was 56 in 1928.

In the last 100 years, Democrats had more than 250 House members after 20 different elections. The GOP hasn’t had that since 1928.

When Georgia’s Newt Gingrich was House Speaker in the 1990′s, he never had more than 235 GOP votes.

Right now, Republicans have a 220-213 edge — which is not a formula for massive legislative changes. And yet, we hear GOP calls for exactly that.

“It may be a brand new year,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., “but it’s kind of the same old song and dance.”

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com