Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kudos To Boehner

Real legislating (well, that and plenty of spin and mischief-making) has broken out, of all places, on the floor of the House of Representatives this week. That's because Republicans have brought up the bill funding government agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year under an "open rule," meaning that Members can offer amendments. Lots of amendments. Over 400, apparently. And votes, lots of votes -- I just watched the tail end of 15 consecutive two-minute votes.

Of course, many of these amendments are of the grandstanding and gotcha variety, but there's substance, too. What's interesting is that unlike the purely symbolic votes that began the 112th House, the voting patterns on these amendments aren't purely party-line votes. So, for example, the first vote was on an amendment by Arizona Republican (and Senate candidate) Jeff Flake to cut $18M on "unneeded boards and commissions." I have no idea which boards and commissions were covered (doesn't seem to be anything on Flake's House web site) but the amendment failed 207-223, with Democrats supporting it 115-75 and Flake's fellow Republicans opposing it, 92-148. Interesting, no? The House web site doesn't have most of the amendments up yet, but the ones that I watched had several different interesting voting patterns: for the most part, they weren't just >90% of one party against >90% of the other.

By the way, one of the initial reactions I have is that it's a reminder that voting in legislatures is to at least some extent a function of what's offered for voting -- which suggests that the extraordinary level of polarization in voting during the 111th Congress may have been to at least some extent a function of how Speaker Pelosi and the majority structured floor action.

At any rate, I'm impressed that Speaker Boehner and the rest of the Republicans were willing to allow amendments on this bill. I expect that when push comes to shove the GOP will, like the Democrats before them, resort to closed rules and other tactics to make sure their priorities will pass and to protect their Members from tough votes -- and they've done so on several things so far. But on this one, they've kept their promise about open government and fairness.


  1. I wonder if such a position is relatively costless.

    Given their numbers, the conservative position on many of these amendments will win out. By allowing all these amendments, it produces some buy-in. Plus, it's not like the Senate will produce anything like the final product, so the real work is going to be done in conference, which will come to the floor protected, and if these Republicans are anything like those who came before them (and they are), we'll see stuff in conference that bears little resemblance to the floor median voter. Thus, the final product will look roughly similar, but with more ornaments on it that don't truly matter much, but produce supporters.

    If they controlled the Senate or Prez, I think this would be riskier. As it is, it's kinda like this is a smoke-and-mirrors starting point anyway, so what it actually is might not matter as much.

    At least, that's my sense. If that's not true, then it indicates something VERY interesting: Boehner doesn't have control. Rather than losing a rule vote and demonstrating it (a la Dems in 1981 or Cannon (sorta) in 1911), they're simply keeping their powder dry. If that's the case, watch out....we've got an actual Keith Krehbiel Congress, except with mutlidimensionality!

  2. I'd say this is a means to establish control- let them put these amendments out there for the public record in hopes that it gets them on board with the conference report (or some other legislation down the line, maybe?)

    I don't know how well it'll work; we saw last congreess that amendment-based buy in doesn't count for much. But I don't know what better play Boehner has, and I don't think we've seen just complete loss of control from him so far (though there's been some knife's edge moments).

  3. Perhaps this reflects both Boehner's and Pelosi's practical situations?

    Pelosi's House was in a position to help enact major, longstanding items of the Dem agenda, with success pretty much requiring strong party solidarity.

    Boehner cannot hope to enact major GOP wish list items, so his only path to anything other than grandstanding is to pursue some kind of bipartisanship - perhaps without saying so, since proclaimed bipartisanship would win useless praise from Broder types while infuriating tea partiers.

  4. As an old-fashioned type, I would point out that "legislating" almost never takes place on the floor--and certainly wasn't here. This is probably mostly a manifestation of Boehner's inability to forge a consensus in the GOP Conference.

    I've never understood the fetishization of "open rules." Why exactly shouldn't the majority use its power to achieve its ends, especially when it is united enough to do so?


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