Friday, October 4, 2013

Procedure and the Politics of Procedure

Sarah Binder took another look at why discharge petitions are rarely useful, and why that procedure isn't going to solve the current shutdown.

She's certainly correct, and Greg Sargent's post about defeating the "previous question" is part of the reason why: if dissenting Republicans are willing to go against the party on procedural votes, they have a much easier way of doing it than a discharge petition. However, as Dave Weigel makes clear, Republican clean CR supporters aren't close to voting against the party on procedural votes.

(Just as I was almost done with this...Greg now reports that Democrats may work a discharge petition on a "automatic CR" bill some Republican had filed a while ago. It would speed up the process, but it's still not clear why it's a better procedure than using the previous question -- why would Republicans not willing to do the latter sign the former? It seems more like a talking point than real procedural plan).

Greg talks about how dissenting Democrats worked with the Reagan White House in 1981 to use this procedure. But remember: the Democrats involved in that fight were not even remotely similar to the clean CR Republicans today. It's not just the ideological positions involved; today's GOP dissenters are moderate by House Republican standards, but they're all more conservative than any House Democrat, while the Democrats involved in 1981 were far more conservative than many Republicans of the time. It's also the question of party loyalty. Conservative Democrats in 1981 were active, open, opponents of "national" Democrats, and I suspect that many of them eventually became Republicans anyway. Certainly, their leader, then-Democrat Phil Gramm of Texas, would soon resign his House seat, run again as a Republican and win election, and eventually become a Senator and a presidential candidate as a Republican.

More generally, in those weaker-party days, the "conservative coalition" in the House of Republicans and Southern Democrats had long worked together. That had faded by 1981 -- the real peak of the coalition was in the late 1930s through the 1950s -- but it was still possible to revive it. There's nothing remotely close to that today; if Republican moderates betrayed their party on procedural votes, it would be something new and unprecedented for them.

Not that they couldn't do it! But the norms of Congress certainly have been that defecting on substantive votes isn't nearly as big a deal as defecting on procedural votes.

And this fight shows exactly why that is. As usual, there are multiple possible winning coalitions on the House floor -- in this case, there's a GOP-only group that's voted for a number of things, but there's also a mostly-Democrats coalition that supports a clean CR. Indeed: we know there are 217 votes for a CR-plus-defunding, a CR-plus-delaying, a CR-plus-delaying the individual mandate, and reportedly a clean CR; there may well be majorities for a clean CR at various different funding levels, and for a CR with various other add-ons. The whole strength of having the party majority is that the party gets to choose which of those things actually comes up for a vote. Once Members treat procedural votes as if they were substantive votes, then the party is worthless (and, beyond that, you get chaos -- because there's no way to regulate which of the many possible majorities gets votes).

By the way, that's why the Hastert Rule is quite normal and logical: of course the majority party is going to regulate which things get to the House floor, and doing it by majority is perfectly sensible when possible. The real questions are what to do when it isn't possible, not why you would have that "rule" in the first place.

So: the reason why I've harped on the idea that you need plenty of public dissenting Republicans before it puts real pressure on Boehner is precisely because there's little chance that just 17 Republicans would defect on such a huge issue and on a procedural vote. However, the larger the group gets -- and since we're told that the public dissenters are only the tip of the iceberg -- the more the iceberg, as it were, starts to matter. And, at the same time, the pressure on the public dissenters to actually do something about it grows stronger.

However, as of now, the number seems to have stalled short of 25 (we'll see what the weekend does for that). It's no surprise that if that's all that are willing to go public on substance that we're nowhere near having enough to actually betray their party on procedure.

The bottom line is that however it's expressed in a a final vote, this is unlikely to end because 17 or 18 or 21 Republicans work with Democrats, and against the real wishes of the rest of their party. It is possible that a final vote will work out that way, but only if that's what the bulk of the conference wants. And if that happens, the key vote will be almost certainly be on substance, not bucking the party on procedure.

18 comments:

  1. so, a discharge could work (contra ms blinder) but the votes aren't there.

    Given that the point is the put more pressure on the speaker to move a bill, that seems irrelevant.

    Also, you'll notice the real fight is about the size of CR.

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  2. The discharge petition I don't think is expected to really work, but it's meant to put more pressure on those Clean CR Republicans to push Boehner harder.

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    1. This. It's much easier to explain a discharge petition to the public than it is to explain a motion to recommit.

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  3. So, the question becomes: how much pressure do MCs feel to sign discharge petitions that would be more popular than the positions they take on party votes?

    I think it takes more of a popularity gap than we see on the shutdown; on McCain-Feingold, you had an issue that was really much more popular than the GOP position, IIRC, and one which didn't get nice 100% pure party positions on it.

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  4. This is probably a dumb question, but here goes. If the problem is that the House needs it to pass, but for a majority of members, it's dangerous to be seen voting for it, then why not try to pass it on a voice vote?

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    1. Any one member of the House can call for a recorded vote. There are at least 30 Republicans who would jump at the chance to put their vote against on the record.

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    2. However, this does suggest at an outcome I've been thinking about, but unsure on whether it would happen: members voting present or otherwise absenting themselves to give the Dems a majority of those voting.

      I don't see it as entirely likely, as you need twice as many of them. But, I'm having trouble seeing almost ANY way of this.....

      Problem

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    3. The way out is that the Republicans do the job they are Constitutionally mandated to do, which is authorize that the money for the budget they negotiated with the Democrats be spent for that purpose, and borrowed if necessary.

      Everything else is Calvinball.....

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  5. Just as I was almost done with this...Greg now reports that Democrats may work a discharge petition on a "automatic CR" bill some Republican had filed a while ago.

    Aaaaaaand, there goes your argument (Binder's too)

    Sounds like either a discharge petition or a previous question motion would do the trick.

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  6. Why the insistence on a "clean" CR? The regular appropriations process consists of 12 separate bills. Why is a clean CR an inviolable concept?

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    1. It's not that CRs are inviolable. It's the concern that the Republicans are coming to see threats to the government as a way to get what they want. Obama agreed to negotiate in 2011, and now they're doing it again. The Democrats, I think, want to discourage that by making this as painful for the Republicans as possible. The tradeoff there is that a small concession at this point might make it easier for the GOP to back down. So if the Republicans are ready to back down and not do this again, then a small concession would be helpful to everyone. But if the Republicans are not there yet, then the concession might still convince them them of the possibilities of gaining if they just hold out longer next time. That's further complicated, of course, by the fact that the Republicans themselves were divided on the wisdom of this from the beginning.

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  7. Your assumption is that the 17-or-so Republicans would be "defectors." But it seems quite possible that the House leadership would welcome the "defection." Of course they wouldn't say so publicly, but privately they well might signal several of the potential defectors that there would be no adverse consequences for their support of a clean CR.

    Boehner knows he is going to have to work with Pelosi on this somewhere down the line; it seems to me this would be an ideal way for him to get the CR through with no visible blood on his hands. It would not surprise me, in fact, if we learned years from now that Boehner was in on the Democratic plan. He retains his creds with the Crazy Caucus & gets the clean CR he wants. Perfecto.

    Marie Burns

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    1. yep. Negotiations 101. Give your opponent something.

      And maybe one big name -- Eric Cantor.

      The Virginia Republican party is NOT happy about this. It is going to cost them the governor's mansion. Possibly a seat in Virginia Beach.

      Cantor and Griffin may be the only Virginia republicans against this. Cantor's brand is strong enough he may survive a vote.

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    2. sorry for the double post:

      http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2012/roll659.xml

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    3. This is smart. Boehner tacitly allowing defections by about 20 GOP "moderates" would allow him to more concretely make the case to his House caucus that they need to compromise otherwise they'll break up the entire party. That he's not playing one side of the party off against the other is another sign of how weak a leader he is, since it's in all their interests to stay unified and thus the radicals need the "moderates" just as much as vice versa.

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    4. It would be smart, but they can't get Cruz or Club for Growth to promise they won't organize primaries against said "moderates."

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    5. @Pat. You're missing the point. These Republicans have already said openly that they would vote for a clean CR. They tend to come from places like New York, New Jersey & California where they're not worried about a primary challenger from the right. All they're waiting for is "permission."

      Marie

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    6. There's a difference between voting for a CR that the speaker brings to the floor and cooperating with Dems to bring it to the floor, whether or not the speaker tacitly approves. Cruz/Club for Growth will probably attack you either way, but those attacks will louder and more widespread (among GOP voters) for signing a discharge petition.

      Whether or not that's true, it certainly seems to be what the 17 or so moderates believe:

      http://www.politico.com/blogs/politico-live/2013/10/king-wont-sign-discharge-petition-174377.html?hp=l8

      Even if Boehner would rather people went around his leadership to bring the CR to a vote, the moderates who would have to do it would rather Boehner just bring it up for a vote.

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