Yesterday Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) said he was leaving the Senate, while President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner began one-on-one budget talks. Both may be good news for effective government … or may portend the end of life as we know it. (More)

Fracture: The GOP, Budget Talks, and the Mayacalypse

Senator Jim DeMint’s announcement that he will resign from the Senate to lead the Heritage Foundation was yet more evidence of a fracture in the Republican Party. His departure will not change the partisan balance, as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) will appoint a replacement to serve until a special election in 2014.

Among those being considered for 2014 is former Palmetto State Governor Mark Sanford, who said yesterday:

You don’t invest 20 years of your life into the conservative cause and the political process unless you care deeply both about the direction of the country and those themes. It doesn’t necessarily translate into candidacy, but it means you care.

Sanford is, of course, well known for how much he cares. He is now engaged to his Argentine paramour and one presumes that, if elected, he would let her control his email blocker so he can concentrate fully on public service.

A radical realignment?

But this is a serious column, so let us turn to the wisdom of the Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin on Sen. DeMint’s resignation:

Jim DeMint is leaving the Senate to take over the Heritage Foundation. He will replace Ed Feulner as the conservative think tank’s president. He expressed no qualms about leaving the Senate before his term is up, nor did he reflect on his legislative achievements, of which none come to mind.

Okay then. After explaining why Heritage Foundation fellows should be wary about the injection of politics into their “well-respected think tank and source of scholarship” – I’ll pause while you wipe your screen – Rubin continues:

Now for the U.S. Senate, I am sure many senators on both sides are clicking their heels. DeMint has been a destructive force, threatening to primary colleagues, resisting all deals and offering very little in the way of attainable legislation. He has contributed more than any current senator to the dysfunction of that body. He has worsened relations between the House and Senate, as he did in the budget fights in recent years, by meddling and pressuring his home state representative. His departure leaves other senators who seemed impressed with his brand of politics free to find their way to a more constructive position in the body.

Although the Squirrel has long dismissed the approaching Mayan Apocalypse, if Jennifer Rubin actually wrote that paragraph then we may need to reconsider whether the earth is about to experience a radical polar realignment.

Fortunately, RedState‘s Ned Ryun is standing by to preserve gravity:

If conservatives want to keep the House and win the Senate, we need to fire John Boehner as speaker of the House. We only need 16 House votes to do it.
[…]
If Speaker Boehner wants to purge independent, bold conservatives – I think it’s time he gets fired as Speaker. Not only for the purge. He has failed to effectively win negotiations with President Obama and appointed moderate committee chairs. To the public, Boehner may appear radical but in reality he proposes milquetoast policies, like the tax-hikes he proposed this week.

At least we know down is still … down.

Progress in the budget talks

All of this comes amidst news that President Obama accepted Speaker Boehner’s request for one-on-one budget talks:

At House Speaker John A. Boehner’s request, Senate leaders and Representative Nancy Pelosi have been excluded from talks to avert a fiscal crisis, leaving it to Mr. Boehner and President Obama alone to find a deal, Congressional aides say.

All sides, even the parties excluded, say clearing the negotiating room improves the chance of success. It adds complexity as the two negotiators consult separately with the leaders not in the room. But it also minimizes the number of people who need to say yes to an initial agreement.

“This is now the speaker and the president working this through,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat.

It is, of course, easier to reach a deal with only two people at the table. While both President Obama and Speaker Boehner would have to convince their parties to accept the deal, that task is easier if they have worked together on the package. And President Obama reaffirmed in his commitment that any deal will include tax rate hikes for incomes over $250,000:

“Just to be clear, I’m not going to sign any package that somehow prevents the top rate from going up for folks at the top 2 percent,” Mr. Obama said. “But I do remain optimistic that we can get something done.”

With ever more House Republicans accepting that higher taxes for the rich must be part of any deal, Speaker Boehner can focus on attainable goals like ensuring the long-term solvency of Medicare and other social safety net programs.

An extinction-level event?

Such news may buoy the hopes of many Americans that the 2012 election will indeed produce a more functional government. But that prospect may also be terrifying to those who have grown accustomed to the familiar, dystopic spectacle of Republicans opposing anything President Obama supports, even ideas offered by the very same Heritage Foundation that Sen. DeMint will now head. There is a certain comfort in being able to predict that, if President Obama ties his shoelaces, Republicans will insist that Real Americans™ wear loafers.

But lest you scurry to appear on Doomsday Preppers, I’ll note the refreshingly familiar blind obstructionism of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wanted to prove on Thursday that Democrats don’t have the votes to weaken Congress’ authority on the debt limit. Instead they called his bluff, and he ended up filibustering his own bill.

The legislation, modeled on a proposal McConnell offered last year as a “last-choice option” to avert a U.S. debt default, would permit the president to unilaterally lift the debt ceiling unless Congress mustered a two-thirds majority to stop him. President Obama has championed the idea.

McConnell brought up the legislation Thursday morning. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) initially objected, seemingly proving the Republican leader’s point that it cannot pass the Senate. But then Reid ran it by his members and, in the afternoon, agreed to hold that same vote. This time it was McConnell who objected.

“The Republican leader objects to his own idea,” Reid declared on the floor. “So I guess we have a filibuster of his own bill.”

So there you have it. The earth is saved. Even if President Obama and Speaker Boehner agree on a budget plan, and even if Speaker Boehner can round up enough House Republicans to pass it alongside House Democrats, I predict with at least some confidence that Sen. McConnell will lead a filibuster.

Unless President Obama threatens to veto his own deal, in which case Senate Republicans will support it unanimously. Yes, I didn’t say that. No, I did. Or something.

+++++

Happy Friday!