Thursday, December 3, 2009

GOP Floor Strategy: Have They Conceded Defeat?

Have Republicans given up on blocking health care in the Senate?

I continue to be baffled by the Senate Republicans' strategy on the health care bill.

The GOP has embarked on a double filibuster strategy. Strategy #1 is a 60 vote strategy: Republicans have been expected all year to force the Democrats to seek cloture on the bill, which will require sixty votes -- votes that the Dems may or may not have at this point.

Strategy #2, however, is also a filibuster strategy, but it isn't about getting forty-one votes to defeat the bill; it's about using Senate rules to drag the debate out indefinitely. So far, the two tactics used are forcing cloture on the motion to proceed (three days of floor time) and blocking votes on amendments (the first votes are beginning now on the fourth day of that one, although it's harder to score the amount of delay on that, since there certainly would have been some debate before votes). And we have the Gregg memo, advising Republicans about various obscure ways they can further delay things, such as raising bogus points of order and then filibustering a debate over the chair's ruling.

I continue to believe that strategy #2 undermines strategy #1. Not that Republicans should rush through the debate to get to the final (cloture) vote, but that even without deliberate delay the bill was likely to take at least two weeks of floor time, and that could easily run over four weeks just from normal debate over germane amendments.

Strategy #2, the delay-for-delay's-sake strategy, seems to me to have two major disadvantages for the Republicans. First, every time the GOP forces a procedural vote (such as cloture on the motion to proceed) that aligns all sixty Democrats (counting Lieberman as a Dem) against all forty Republicans, it pushes marginal Democrats in the direction of ultimately siding with the Dems in the final (strategy #1) procedural vote. It's easier to explain an "always vote for cloture" voting pattern, I think, than a more complex pattern; what's more, marginal Dems have already cast a vote (on cloture on the motion to proceed) that will be used against them from one side, so it may be easier to just take that hit and avoid the double hit from the left involved in opposing final passage (and cloture on final passage).

Second, strategy #2 undermines the ability of Republicans to argue that they are working in good faith towards a bipartisan compromise. That's not going to affect partisans, but it could affect neutral observers; I'm not sure the Broders of the world are going to applaud drag-it-out-forever tactics. And if Republicans lose that crowd, that hurts their chances of winning the Democratic Senators who want to be seen as moderates. Again, a couple weeks of delay through introducing germane amendments would not have that effect, but that doesn't seem to be the Republican strategy.

So, why are they doing it? Surely they don't think that keeping the bill on the floor a few more weeks will kill it; this is clearly the top Democratic priority, and Dems won't just quit and go home if they have to drag the debate into January or even February. It's possible they believe that public opinion will turn sharply against the bill over time, but again the particular delaying tactics used threaten to undermine the chances of that happening (they'd be far better off with nice-sounding amendments, not foot-dragging). What's their game?

One possible explanation is that Republicans have concluded that they have no real chance of winning the final cloture vote.

If that's the case, then strategy #2 may not really be about stopping the bill at all. It may just be about pleasing GOP primary -- and, in the minds of some Senators, presidential primary -- voters. Those voters are apt to love this sort of thing, and certainly won't be put off by "party of no" accusations, even if swing voters might.

Granted, it's also possible that Republicans just calculate the situation differently than I do. If my logic is correct, however, it suggests that things look pretty good for the bill getting done.


  1. I think you give them too much credit. The party of teabaggers has enough of its elected officials willing to tilt at windmills on its own; combined with the misreading of public mood, and I think that they have both a pull (their own inclinations) and a push (what they see as what "the people" want) in the same direction.

    However, there is a possible motive for #2 that's related to your last points. They might actually think this will kill the bill. Not by filibustering, but because "something" will happen in the meantime that will kill it for them. Wishful thinking, I know, but I think some of them might actually believe this. Think about it; it's the EXACT same playbook used for appointments: stall in the hopes that something bad comes out. I think they're hoping for more "negative" stories; look at how they've JUMPED on the mammogram thing.

    In a sense, they're practicing classic Schattschneider: the LOSER expands the scope of conflict. Their form of expansion is time.

  2. Could the Republicans have been smart enough to be stalling till the election of Scott Brown? Nah...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?