Perry’s new role may be for naught

York Dispatch editorial board

If the messy marathon that led to the selection of a new House speaker was a career capstone for that office holder, California Republican Kevin McCarthy, it was hardly less consequential for his colleague from Pennsylvania, Rep. Scott Perry.

Perry and the House Freedom Caucus he leads were crucial to McCarthy’s eventual, if tortured, ascension. The hyper-conservative caucus of more than two dozen members withheld its support for days until a goodly number of concessions could be extracted. At least one political observer believes the outcome benefits Perry and his coalition.

“It put the Freedom Caucus in a position to have considerably more influence than they would have had otherwise without the arrangements that they worked out with McCarthy and his people,” Pennsylvania political analyst G. Terry Madonna told the Dispatch’s Matt Enright.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., left, talks with Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., after the first round of voting for House Speaker during opening day of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Tuesday, Jan 3, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Traditionally, this would also be beneficial to Perry’s constituents. Outsized political clout often translates to favorable legislative and budgeting decisions for an office-holder’s district and state.

Unfortunately, that’s not likely to be the case for the York-area residents Perry represents, nor for the state at large.

The reason: This otherwise positive development is tainted by Perry’s apparent intention to use any new power for purely partisan means. Never mind attempts at responsible legislating or common-ground collaboration; Perry believes “changing the trajectory in Washington, D.C” requires him to “fight the left.”

The concessions he outlined in a Twitter post are anything but a checklist for responsible governing. They include ending all funding to fight the ongoing COVID pandemic, establishing a House committee to investigate the so-called weaponization of government agencies (i.e., conducting probes Perry doesn’t like, such as the FBI, which is examining his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection) and allowing any one House member to make a motion to remove the speaker.

Most disconcertingly, Perry & Co. have evidently pressured McCarthy into going along with a refusal to raise the federal debt ceiling in a misguided effort to reduce government spending. This issue gained immediacy last week when Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen warned that the U.S. will reach its debt limit this week. While the Treasury Department will undertake what it calls “extraordinary measures” to pay the bills in the short term, the U.S. could see itself unable to meet its obligations as early as June absent an increase in its borrowing authority.

Failure to act, said Yellen, would result in “irreparable harm to the U.S. economy, the livelihoods of all Americans, and global financial stability.”

That makes very little never-mind to many Republicans, who have been flirting with this threat for more than a decade, heedless of the fact that the time to effect changes in spending is when the spending bills are being negotiated.

But that would require negotiation and cooperation; neither of which are Freedom Caucus strong suits. Far easier to exploit the slim Republican House majority by withholding support unless members get their way.

McCarthy bought this argument. President Joe Biden and the Democrats who control the Senate are less likely to be similarly overrun.

A wise lawmaker, a statesman, might use this influence to find a beneficial middle ground that not only serves the American people but garners additional political chits for battles ahead.

There is little evidence that Perry, the Freedom Caucus or even the party as a whole — hell-bent as it is on using its slim new majority to conduct partisan hearings, score political points and create content for Fox News — is politically astute or mature enough to chart such a course.

Thus, the elevation of a local lawmaker to a position of comparative national prominence may result in little more for his constituents than predictable partisan posturing and potential economic calamity.

If so, it will be a lost opportunity for Perry, Pennsylvania and the nation.