Thursday, July 28, 2011

All of a Sudden (It's Too Late)

Here's one wild guess about what's happened over on the House floor, where John Boehner had to postpone a vote at the last minute, presumably after he didn't have the votes.

My guess? He never got close. This late update from The Hill had not only the 25 no votes that put the bill below sea level, but a whopping 33 undeciding/not saying (along with 6 more probable yes votes). That's after a day of heavy lifting.

Now, it could be that Boehner has been a handful of votes away, and it's just a question of a couple of dozen Members fighting it out over who has to bit the bullet and take one for the cause. That's a tricky coordination problem, and it's even possible (as I write this, the vote is postponed but still possible later this evening) that it's just taking a bit more time than expected.

But another possibility is that he's been far from getting there all day, and tried to stampede it as the only remaining tactic. Perhaps if he gave the impression that it was going to happen, he could stampede GOP-oriented media who might not want to be on the wrong side of practically every Republican in the House, and that in turn would put pressure on wavering Members to sign on. A longshot, but if Boehner knew yesterday that he was likely to lose, maybe it was a longshot worth stabbing at.

I have no idea which of these were true, and as usual I'll toss in a caution that I'm not a reporter, but my hunch is that he didn't come close. The clue? That big group of undecideds, all of whom were needed to vote yes. If Boehner was really close, you would think that he would have had some of those 33 jump on the bandwagon a lot more loudly over the course of the day. It's only a clue; it's possible that they all told him they would be with him if necessary...but at least some of them should have been convinced that they weren't in the very last group of Members whose votes might not be needed. But it is a clue.

So that's my guess. I suppose we'll see, later tonight and on into tomorrow. Meanwhile, my casting of Boehner as Mal yesterday isn't looking so good -- but my take on the House GOP as the geek Trio is looking better all the time. Which is not, to be sure, something that I'm very happy about.


  1. This is a bit of a conspiracy theory, but it isn't out of the realm of possibility. Suppose Republicans want to maximize their leverage over Obama. They would do so by making this vote as difficult as possible. That way, when Obama asks them to move, Boehner says: "I barely got my own version through. I can't possibly get anything less conservative through.

  2. Reid has this under control. He only needs 2-3 dozen House Republicans to defect from the Tea-Party line and vote for Reid's bill when it reaches the House. Wall Street, and many others armed with phones and Blackburies, will ensure that this happens at the last minute. Boehner will allow the vote rather than be seen as causing US default. And then he'll cry.

  3. Those 2-3 dozen House Reps would be falling on their swords, almost guaranteeing Tea Party challenges in 2012. To the Tea Party, voting for the Reid plan would be like voting for TARP, stimulus and PPAC all at once, particularly only if a few do it. Realistically, if 2 dozen House Reps back the Reid plan, you have to figure that half of them lose primaries. Who volunteers for the suicide mission?

  4. It all depends on the precise whens and whats as far as forcing a split on the R Party - or bringing the already-existing split near, to, or through the surface. The odds are always against such a thing happening, but even the inexpressibly conventional David Gergen was saying the other day that if the recalcitrant extremism of the TPers was seen as having forced massive dislocation on the country, politically as well as economically, they would be finished as a force in American politics. He may only have been approximating, but a process with that shape is taking place. Who's to say who really is on a suicide mission at this point? Why is everyone so sure that people even and especially in the R party won't be running away from the TP in 2012?

  5. As of this hour, still no vote...

    But if I was trying to figure it out, I'd look for the names reporters outside the speaker's door say are coming in and out, and match that to the list of no votes and maybes from The Hill.

    If he's leaning on just the no's, it's close. If the maybes are cycling in and out of the office in similar numbers to the no's, Boehner's in deep deep trouble.

    But if the reports are to be believed, the one switch to "yes" we've seen this evening didn't do the trick. If it's as bad as Jonathan suspects, Boehner should have some votes in his pocket and roll them out super-delegate style - to try and create the feeling of a movement.

    However it comes out, I still think he's asking these Tea Partiers to commit political suicide to vote on a deal that will never happen in the form of this bill. I can't see why any of the TeePees would be idiotic to sign on for that.

  6. I posited this theory to a friend of mine earlier. What if Boehner new he was going to lose but didn't want to look like he was responsible for, you know, a Constitutional crisis or a default or whatever. He valiantly tried to solve the crisis and failed. What if he honestly dislikes the Tea Party contingent? He really seems the old-school, make deals kind of guy. I can imagine dealing with those people would drive him nuts. He doesn't mind compromise. And he had several amazing deals put in front of him. What if he calculated that this would hurt the Tea Party and he would be rid of some of them eventually? He wants Congress to do things. Otherwise he wouldn't want to be speaker. The "mano-a-mano" comment makes sense in this context.

    Just a theory, anway.

  7. Maybe Jonathan, Matt Jarvis or another expert can clarify, but it seems like we've entered uncharted waters here. The contingent of Republican congressmen who are acting out of fear of primary Tea Party challengers next summer is without precedent, yes? In terms of size (numbers large enough that the majority becomes a minority without them) and certainty (probability of devastating primary challenge in 2012 ~ 100%).

    Because of this group, call it the Bachmann contingent or whatever you like, Boehner/McConnell/Reid/Obama are in effect negotiating not with the other party or even recalcitrant members of their own party, they're negotiating with those Tea Party primary challengers waiting in the wings next summer.

    How do you negotiate with people who not only don't have anything to be gained from compromise, but also don't even necessarily exist?

    This is FUBAR, yes? Have we ever seen this before? It doesn't really matter anymore what you think of the Tea Party, or Republicans, or the particular cast of characters...the system has thoroughly broken down.

    If there is a silver lining, a sliver of hope to hang one's hat on, perhaps Boehner called off tonight's vote because he knows that the only solution is a grand bargain ex-his own primary-challenge-fearing contingent. It would be unusual to pursue a grand bargain without your entire team, but Boehner may not have much choice.

    So he calls off tonight's vote to keep this angle on the crisis somewhat under wraps, on the assumption that there is also a large gray area in his caucus, maybe not 100% certain of a primary challenge, but plenty scared nonetheless. He'd like to bring those folks to his Grand Bargain. So he's hiding his cards, out of worry that revealing his plans will cause those fearing the Tea Party 2012 to infect the rest of his caucus.

    Probably not. But what else can we hope for at this point?

  8. Actually, perhaps the chaos of the next week will end up being reducible to a few simple maxims:

    1) The overwhelming majority of us will, under no circumstances, intentionally commit professional suicide.

    2) For several dozen House Republicans, any agreement other than CCB amounts to intentionally committing professional suicide.

    3) Thus, no agreement other than CCB has any chance of passing the House.

    Its Obama and the 14th....or....?

  9. I have to admit, that the 14th amendment deal kind of excited me when I first read about it. And oddly enough, it still fills me with some small excitement. Which is horribly creepy. What kind of person actually wants a Constitutional crisis?

    But, t his kind of challenge, if all goes somewhat well, tells me that the US form of government is actually self-correcting. The genius of the framers and the dudes who wrote the 14th and all that, kind of makes me pleased, if it comes down to that. I still have to say that it's ridiculous that it would come to that, but at least somebody, quite some time ago, actually thought that this sort of thing might happen and was able to get it in the Constitution, gives me some hope.

  10. CSH: honestly, I'm not quite sure. My first thoughts run to the runup to the Civil War. So, I can understand why an SC or GA would think they could take on a war, because they might have thought that it wouldn't have been fought on their soil. But Virginia? They had to know that this war was going to be very costly for them, regardless of who ended up winning.

    Why did my thoughts run there? Because a classic question in the international relations literature is: why do wars happen? Shouldn't nations be able to guess who's going to win, and come up with a compromise that leaves both of them better off than with the loss of blood and treasure? And an answer to that question was that countries didn't know who's going to win.

    Now, I've clearly revealed my liberal bias, including the fact that I've bought into what Obama and most of professional DC is selling: passing August 2 is simply a lose/lose situation, in that it really brings on a 2nd Great Depression, and my bias against the Tea Party, who to me simply seem insane/stupid/both. So, to my liberal mind, the question reads as: has there ever been a group whose unwavering adherence to their policy goals would cause the death of the republic?

    But, to try to treat the question from a less biased point-of-view, has there ever been a faction that held sway over a majority party in the House such that a pretty small minority of the population was a juggernaut force? Well, yes and no.

    No, but let's not forget why. We have to restrict our dataset to the 20th century and later, because the mechanism of this control (prmiaries) didn't exist before then in any widespread fashion. So, once we're in the 20th century, the Dems are largely out of the picture for about 90 of the years, because southern and northern Dems face VERY different constituencies. And the Reps have a majority (with primaries operating) only for about 10-20 years (primaries spread throughout the US from about 1890-1920) before the modern years. So, in essence, we've stacked the deck firmly in favor of saying the Tea Party effect on the GOP is unique in history....because it wasn't necessarily possible before the last 20 or so years.

    Now, the yes. One COULD argue that the inclusion of the Progressive movement into the GOP (note: over the EXACT same period that primaries were adopted, and that is NO accident, as they were pushing for them) effectively was a primary-fear based constituency wresting of control away from the party establishment. The Progressive wing of the GOP voted with the Dems in the revolt against Joe Cannon. Note that: WITH the minority party. So, that's why I'd come back down on the no side: the TP has absolutely no intention of taking power away from the party, nor of moving policy towards the center of the parties.

    VERY long answer. For a better one, I'd want to get an APD (American Political Development) scholar's opinions, particularly an expert on that period. Eric Schickler comes to mind, but we're getting away from the literature I know of.

  11. Oh, and phat: many of us political scientists lack a soul. So, I'm actually looking forward to next week as a political scientist, and dreading it as a human being.

  12. Matt, thanks for the excellent comment. That's the sort of insight that makes this place a lot of fun, particularly in a scary time like this. I obviously know very little about Cannon, but his situation seems different from this one in that the Cannon revolt sounds like the normal way that politics makes strange bedfellows.

    We should be so lucky right now for *actual* Democratic congresscritters working with *actual* Republicans! How does one negotiate with prospective primary candidates who in many cases don't exist (as candidates) now, and even if they do, have no ability to get back anything in exchange for assent to a deal? We're living through a pretty bizarre clusterf***, it seems to me.

  13. It is hard to imagine a minority of House Republicans joining a unified Democratic caucus to pass a bill. It seems to me it has to look like most of the Republicans, and more Republicans than Democrats, even if in truth the whole Democratic caucus would be willing to sign on.

  14. Nobody has suggested a bill that might pass with dems and some moderate Republicans.

    Are there no moderate Republicans left in the House?

  15. Not a winner for the Speaker. He has to announce that the "ayes have it" after clearly hearing the vociferous "no's" from the Tea Party wing. Individual Members might have cover, but he won't.

  16. This is why I think it is more likely that we actually hit default. Nothing happens the first couple of days, emboldening the tea party. Over the course of several weeks though, things begin to happen. As things begin to happen, perhaps it begets other things to happen. Only then will they back off of their pledges.

    In other words, only until it becomes politically untenable for them to ignore reality will they do so. Only then will Rush and Sarah give their blessings.

  17. Really thoughtful analysis from both Jonathan and all the commenters-- thank you! I mostly wanted to post to say thanks for the wonderful XTC reference in the title of the post. (: More political blogs should work underrated pop bands and Joss Whedon references into their analysis.

  18. Brian,

    Thank you! I have to admit that I get terribly frustrated when I do stuff like that and no one seems to notice. Which is only fair, because it's just self-indulgence and I suppose one really shouldn't get rewarded for it, but still...a whole day of XTC titles, and 30 comments so far, and I'm glad at least one person noticed.

    (OK, "Frivolous Tonight" is pretty obscure, I guess, but the other three weren't).


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