Lawmakers weigh conflicting marching orders

Less than two hours before Congress was set to vote on a bill to end the federal government shutdown and raise the national debt limit, my e-mail box was flooded with press releases and alerts that were being sent out to Republican legislators.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a “Key Vote Alert,” calling for all members of the House and Senate to vote FOR legislation to reopen the government and “avoid tarnishing the nation’s credit by defaulting on our national debt.”

Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber, wrote, “While important policy issues are at stake in the ongoing debate about federal spending, debts, deficits and entitlements, the full faith and credit of the United States should not be subjected to further brinksmanship. The consequences to the U.S. economy and the American business community of a default are too extreme to be allowed to occur.”

Josten warned, “The House and Senate must pass legislation in the coming hours to reopen the federal government and avoid default. The Chamber will include votes on, or in relation to, such legislation in our annual How They Voted scorecard.”

There’s your yin…Vote FOR the bill.

Moments later, arrived the yang. Vote AGAINST the bill.

The conservative Americans for Limited Government issued a statement, warning that it also is keeping score and a vote to lift the debt limit will be scored as a vote FOR Obamacare.

Heritage Action For America, another influential conservative group, also demanded that legislators vote against the bill because it fails to “stop Obamacare’s massive new entitlements from taking root.” The group warned lawmakers it will look to how they voted on this bill when it considers supporting candidates to run against them in Republican primary campaigns next year.

The conservative Club for Growth sent e-mails to House and Senate Republicans, urging them to vote against the measure and warned them that the vote will be included in the club’s 2013 legislative scorecard.

Therein lies the problem for today’s Republican Party…Who’s your Daddy? Big business or conservative ideologues?

Don’t expect the U.S. Chamber, which spent $35.7 million on federal elections in 2012, to back down to the socially conservative groups.

“We are going to get engaged,” Scott Reed, senior political strategist for the Chamber, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “The need is now more than ever to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness.”

In the end, of course, the scheme concocted by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and the Tea Party wing to try to defund Obamacare by threatening to default on the nation’s debt, which by any credible economist’s account would have had catastrophic consequences for the U.S. economy, was doomed to fail.

Still, Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Republican Congressmen Paul Ryan (Janesville), Jim Sensenbrenner (Menomonee Falls), Tom Petri (Fond du Lac) and Sean Duffy (Wausau) voted with Cruz and the Tea Party against the bill. Wisconsin Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Sherwood) voted for the bill.

To be sure, the Democratic Party has its share of sugar daddies too, ranging from environmentalists and feminists to what remains of labor unions. Generally, however, they are not in contention with each other and they do not demand that their party shut down the federal government and default on the nation’s debt if they don’t get their way.

The way forward for the national GOP remains unclear. Party Chairman Reince Priebus is going to have some difficult decisions to make. He’s already on the clock for 2014.

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes.

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Steve Jagler
Steve Jagler, former BizTimes Milwaukee editor.

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