Economics often teaches about the concept of “moral hazard,” wherein no guard against risk exists, thereby encouraging one party to continue to engage in risky behavior. The idea gained prominence in the 2008 financial crisis when banks that were considered “too big to fail” had engaged in risky behaviour knowing that the US government would bail them out.
While most people do not think House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have much in common, this week they both gave into the far-right of their respective chambers, thereby giving far-right extremists more incentive to continue engaging in bad behaviour.
Mr McCarthy’s surrender is more apparent. On Thursday, he experienced yet another humiliation when House Republicans voted against a rule to allow for debate on the annual defence spending bill. To be clear, this was not a vote on the actual legislation.
Furthermore, this is a bill filled with plenty of right-wing wishlist items that make it a non-starter in the Senate, and as soon as it passes the upper chamber will pass its own bill that the House will be forced to pass lest they be seen as not funding the US military.
This came after five House Republicans from the hard-right House Freedom Caucus sank the rule on Tuesday. But to add to the humiliation of Republican leadership, on Thursday Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), whom the Freedom Caucus ousted from their ranks this summer and an ally of Mr McCarthy, joined the five rabble-rousers.
Of course, this comes as the US government is headed toward a government shutdown. But there is little House Speaker Kevin McCarthy can do because he knows if he punishes dissidents or teams up with Democrats to pass a compromise piece of legislation, the Freedom Caucus will raise hell and trigger a motion to boot him.
This is a craven, cynical move not just because Mr McCarthy has chosen to pass legislation that cannot become law simply to keep his gavel, but because he has allowed a sliver of Republicans who will never be satisfied with any spending bill to completely hijack the business of the people’s House. Mr McCarthy is wasting time because he fears losing his job.
But Mr McCarthy is not the only leader who has let insurgents run Congress. For the past seven months, Sen Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) has placed a blanket hold on US military promotions.
Mr Tuberville, who has never served in the US military, placed the hold in response to a policy from the Pentagon that allowed for US military service members to be reimbursed to travel to a state where abortion care is more accessible if they are stationed in a state where it is restricted.
Mr Tuberville’s hold has created a backlog of more than 300 military promotions. Then, on Wednesday, Mr Schumer announced that the Senate would vote to invidually confirm three generals to be members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as opposed to confirming them in batches, NPR reported.
In a floor speech, Mr Schumer tried to claim victory.
“And the abortion policy that Sen Tuberville abhors will remain in place,” he said on Wednesday. “Senator Tuberville will have accomplished nothing.”
The move is somewhat understandable since the US Marine Corps was without a commandant for the first time in more than a century and began to pose a national security risk.
But Mr Tuberville, a former football coach at Auburn University, spiked the football on Wednesday and declared victory.
“I like winning,” he told reporters (Fact-check: he had a 105-53 win-loss record as coach). “We're gonna get three confirmed today.”
Indeed, Mr Tuberville’s hold still continues and now, he knows that Democrats will relent if absolutely necessary.
“It does not solve the overall problem on military readiness,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI), told The Independent. “So we have to find the same expeditious way to confirm the others. And that's the solution.”
Sen Tina Smith (D-MN), the only Senator to have worked for Planned Parenthood, expressed her concern as she went to vote on ending cloture on Thursday and said it sets a precedent for behaviour like Mr Tuberville’s to continue.
“It does,” she told The Independent.
Mr Schumer’s predicament is somewhat more understandable than Mr McCarthy’s. Democrats legitimately feared not being having military officers in their posts and the security risk it posed and he did not do so out of fear of losing his job.
But both men have chosen to allow obstructionists and the loudest voices to continue governing when they have little interest in actually making policy. And they’ve made the GOP “too extreme to fail.”