. . . and predominantly, a fight over represnentative democracy.
The United States is no longer governed, legislatively, by the House and the Senate. It's governed by the House speaker and Senate majority leader, who negotiate directly with the president, work out deals, and cram them down the throats of their respective houses.
For instance, Congress no longer writes a budget through committees, a quaint process that once involved hearings and members who had a voice in spending taxpayers' money. Instead the speaker, majority leader, and president take last year's budget, bump up all the existing programs, and add whatever new programs the president wants. All this happens behind closed door. No hearings. No voice for the members. No hard-won expertise.
The remedy, besides returning to old-fashioned regular order---bottom-up legislating -- is to cut the power of the House speaker and Senate majority leader.
That is the main goal of the much-maligned Freedom Caucus. The House's most conservative members want a conservative speaker, to be sure. But even more they want to have something to do during the week other than standing around waiting to be summoned to an up-or-down vote on whatever the speaker has hatched up with the president and majority leader.
Ron Brownstein gets this, sort of.
[The] defining characteristic of this congressional era has been a hardening of party discipline enforced by increasingly centralized direction from party leadership.
The uprising among conservative House Republicans, which felled Speaker John Boehner and upended his succession, challenges that dynamic. The conservative insurgents revolving around the . . . Freedom Caucus have sought not only to install an ideologically sympathetic speaker but also to constrain any future speaker's ability to punish dissent. . . .
If the speaker can be turn from a dictator into a traffic cop for legislation, his ideological propensity becomes far less important. At some point, ideology ceases to be relevant at all.
Brownstein gives a good short history of how power was centralized in the House and Senate, beginning in the 1970s, when the seniority system was scrapped and committee leadership was turned over, in effect, to the leaders of the House and Senate. The grip of the leadership tightened in the decades that fallowed, "over appointments, the party message, and the . . . agenda," Brownstein writes.
This shift, together with other factors, combined "to produce the highest level of party-line voting in Congress since the early 20th century, a quasi-parliamentary system that saw the two factors vote in virtual lockstep against each other on most major issues. More discipline within the parties meant more conflict between them."
The Freedom Caucus's fight to liberalize House rules succeeded in bouncing Boehner and his handpicked successor, but it is not clear that the accession of Paul Ryan will be a step in the right direction.
His first demanded more power in the speakership, not less. Front and center was his demand that House rules be changed to prevent members from removing him on a no-confidence rule.
His ideology is more or less okay, but that's far less important than his unseemly hunger for power. He clearly wants to control the members, not to listen to them or to give them a freer rein to represent their constituents.