Monday, January 24, 2011

Repeal Vote Strategy in the Senate, Again

I'm following up here on last week's discussion of the possibility that Democrats could bring up ACA repeal in the Senate in order to force Republicans to take a series of tough votes on amendments. Barry Pump has a worthwhile post in which he surveys the relevant classic political science literature and reminds us that what's often important is what Members of Congress think will matter in elections, even if we find that voters don't actually behave as Members think they do.

That's true, and always worth pointing out. I'm not sure it changes my sense that it's a poor strategy for Democrats, however. It's still the case that any Republican afraid of being tarred as an opponent of closing the donut hole can be so attacked just from the final repeal vote; I'm not sure why we should expect Republican Senators to be more scared of the series of individual votes than the one big one, in this context.

Which gets back to Ezra Klein's original speculation that no Member of Congress ever really loses a seat over that kind of vote, or even that such manufactured votes ever become major campaign issues. Against that, Pump offers the case of Bart Stupak:
[A]fter his compromise became “The Stupak Amendment” that managed the unenviable task of pissing off both liberals (for restricting abortion access) and conservatives (for seemingly “caving” on his pro-life stance), his district became a flash point in the national debate that it wouldn’t have been had he not played such an important role in the controversial compromise. This meets the semi-embarrassing vote criteria in Klein’s challenge because Republicans were threatening an abortion provision in the motion to recommit. 
If we're willing to accept the idea that the abortion issue in ACA was essentially manufactured in order to generate tough votes for pro-life Democrats, which I don't know that everyone would grant, but I probably would...still, c'mon. If the counter-example is the guy who put his name on the compromise to the extremely volatile abortion issue on an extremely high-visibility issue...well, my guess is that if that's all you have, then Members can feel pretty safe just plain voting for lower-visibility amendments on lower-visibility issues (and, yes, I think it's highly unlikely that ACA repeal '11 will be as visible as ACA passage '10, much less that symbolic amendment votes on the entirely symbolic ACA repeal vote will be high salience in the next election cycle). 

At any rate, what kind of tough votes would matter? Two kinds, I should think. One would be a vote that asks a Member who plans to vote for final passage to commit to something controversial in addition to whatever she already would be on record for with the final passage vote. The other would be an amendment that appears to be popular for a Member who supports the bill, but would undermine the underlying bill in some way if it passed. In this case, I don't think that either applies. Nothing can really undermine the repeal bill, because everyone knows it isn't going anywhere, so who cares if amendments pass that render it hypothetically unworkable public policy?

So: if the Democrats go ahead with this, as apparently they may do, I agree that Republicans will be more afraid of the consequences of their votes than is warranted by any evidence of how elections really work. I'm just not sure how Democrats can use it to their advantage.


  1. A lot may more depend on the Republicans strategy.

    Also, there is an issue of what about the votes of the DEM caucus?

    Regarding the latter -- Manchin would be pretty much tied to voting to repeal. Or refuse to run for re-election in 2012.
    he campaigned that he would repeal it. He better or he is toast.
    Nelson already knows he will be getting a primary challenge from the left ... he has nothing to lose for switching.
    Leiberman has announced he won't be running again ...
    That right there brings it to 50-50. Not a single vote to spare.

    You want tough votes on amendments? But to get to the amendment phase you just very well may lose the whole thing!!!

    On the former.
    The current talking wags ( meaning take it for what it is worth ) are saying the Republicans may invoke Rule 14 followed by Rule 22.

    Rule 14 allows them to keep the bill on the calendar rather than allowing it to go to committee ( where it will die ).

    Rule 22 allows them to close it for debate and force a filibuster vote with a collection of 16 signatures.

    The two combined ... keep it from committee and force a filibuster would put the DEMS in a tight spot.
    If they do not filibuster, Repeal may very well pass!
    If they filibuster, they look really dumb with all this talk about filibuster reform.
    And what kind of MAJORITY party has to resort to a filibuster!?!

    And they may not even be ABLE to filibuster a Rule 14 - Rule 22 combo.
    They may change the filibuster BEFORE the HR 2 is read.

  2. If there was just the vote on full repeal, then I could imagine a GOP Senator coming up with some explanation like, "I voted for full repeal so that we could start over and create a real system that doesn't involve a government takeover, death panels, blah, blah, blah. We would have added back the donut hole, rules against denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, etc. in our replacement bill." In contrast it would be much harder to explain away voting against individual amendments to a repeal bill that would preserve the popular parts of the bill.

    Even that wouldn't matter for most races but it certainly is possible there could be a handful of toss up races in purple states such as Virginia that could decide control of the Senate in 2013 where votes like this might matter.

  3. The only way I see this working is that democrats need to start a publicity blitz asking what is the republican plan. They need to talk about it non stop around the clock and if one does not appear then they can say that there's no point in bringing up a repeal vote. We all know the repubs don't have a plan and don't even think one is necessary.......the dems need to make this a top talking point.......repeat it until people get sick of hearing it.


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