Political Hotdish: Congress goes on World Poker Tour

  • Article by: KEVIN DIAZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 30, 2013 - 8:48 AM


 

“In a game of poker, if somebody makes a bet, and then says to you, if you raise me, I’m going to fold, [he] will lose 100 percent of [his] poker games.”

That line came from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who took to the Senate floor for 21 hours last week to push for the defunding of “Obamacare” as a condition of keeping the government open past Monday night.

The poker analogy has infused the spirit of the shutdown drama in Congress. It has also been taken to heart by U.S. Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen, a pair of Minnesota Republicans who have steadfastly declined to show their cards on whether they would vote on a “clean” funding bill without conditions.

Why? Because, technically, it hasn’t come up for a vote in the House yet. Politicians, just like the guys on the World Poker Tour, are loath to play their cards before they have to.

This is deeply distressing to reporters who cover Congress, scribes who are expected to tell the public where their elected representatives stand on the major controversies of the day. But these days, that’s just how Congress works — or doesn’t work.

In the treacherous politics of government shutdowns, Republicans suffered mightily when they waded in during the mid-1990s under President Bill Clinton. That has put them on the spot in the current showdown. The chasm between the GOP’s so-called establishment and Tea Party wings is so big that Democrats can drive through in a fleet of federally subsidized hybrid vehicles.

So Democrats, playing a pair of aces, have sought to put the pressure on “establishment” Republicans like Kline and Paulsen, who represent swing districts filled with independent voters with little interest in partisan brinkmanship.

Unlike Minnesota Tea Party Republican Michele Bachmann, Kline and Paulsen stepped back from the brink during the government shutdown and debt-ceiling standoffs of 2011. All three have indicated they don’t want to shut down the government. But the only test they’ve faced so far are a pair of ante-upping measures either defunding or delaying Obamacare.

Senate Democrats stripped the Obamacare language and sent it back to the House. Saturday night, House Republicans planned to add in language delaying Obamacare, repeal the medical device tax, and send it back — strings and all.

As the Senate debated all week, Kline, Paulsen and Bachmann remained poker-faced on how they would vote on a straightforward funding resolution, in accordance with the rules of high-stakes poker where you don’t want to telegraph whether you’re inclined to hold or fold.

Kline, according to spokesman Troy Young, “wants to ensure the federal government remains open — continuing to fund basic services essential to millions of Americans ...”

Paulsen, according to spokesman Philip Minardi, “welcomes the opportunity to review any proposals to ensure we keep the government from shutting down.”

Bachmann, speaking on “Crossfire,” called a shutdown “the last thing we want to do.”

Then again, Republicans can still draw another card — another reason for not showing their hands until now. By mid-October, the government will hit its legal borrowing limit, affording the GOP another chance to extract new policy concessions in exchange for averting a crisis.

Anybody feeling lucky?

Tweet of the week

– Michael Brodkorb, the day he settled a lawsuit with the Minnesota Senate for $30,000.

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