John Boehner twisted himself into a pretzel this week when he told the Washington Post he had “no idea” whether Republicans would once again attempt to privatize Social Security if they retake the House in November. He couldn’t just say “no” — he followed up with the explanation that he couldn’t say because he didn’t want to prejudge the outcome of the GOP’s voter survey.
“We’re not going to prejudge what’s going to come out of this listening project,” he said.
Turns out that the project also includes soliciting recommendations from representatives of the most powerful business and trade groups in the country — in other words, it’s a “House Republican efforts to produce a new policy agenda with a small group of trade association leaders.” Call it the Zombie K Street Project.
Roll Call obtained a letter from Boehner’s office to leaders and lobbyists for the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and about two dozen other business groups inviting them to a forum on the Hill to discuss “ways the business community can be an important part of the discussion on America Speaking Out as House Republicans listen and then form a governing agenda.”
Democrats are, of course, having a field day with the news, calling on Boehner to broadcast the meeting, and tying it to their broad opposition to the Democratic agenda.
But Republicans wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t in some way need to. As it is, their party is riddled by internal fights over what policy direction the party should take, and instead of settling those disputes and coalescing around an agenda, the party leadership has decided to coast on a conservative backlash against the Democrats. Since President Obama took office, they’ve alternately attacked Democrats and the White House for ignoring them while also distancing themselves, when necessary, from concrete proposals put forth by influential members of their own party.
But Republicans may well retake the House in November, and, in the absence of a governing agenda complete with policy prescriptions, they will have to create one. And in a way its no surprise they’ve returned to the usual suspects to help them put one together.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.