Brian Beutler reports on an amazing political coup that House Democrats came within a hair’s breadth of pulling off:
What was supposed to be a routine vote in the House — to knock down an amendment authored by conservative Republicans — turned into pandemonium on the House floor Friday, as Democrats tried to jam the plan through, and hang it around the GOP’s necks.
The vote was on the Republican Study Committee’s alternative budget — a radical plan that annihilates the social contract in America by putting the GOP budget on steroids. Deeper tax cuts for the wealthy, more severe entitlement rollbacks.
Normally something like that would fail by a large bipartisan margin in either the House or the Senate. Conservative Republicans would vote for it, but it would be defeated by a coalition of Democrats and more moderate Republicans. But today that formula didn’t hold. In an attempt to highlight deep divides in the Republican caucus. Dems switched their votes — from “no” to “present.”
Panic ensued. In the House, legislation passes by a simple majority of members voting. The Dems took themselves out of the equation, leaving Republicans to decide whether the House should adopt the more-conservative RSC budget instead of the one authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. As Dems flipped to present, Republicans realized that a majority of their members had indeed gone on the record in support of the RSC plan — and if the vote closed, it would pass. That would be a slap in the face to Ryan, and a politically toxic outcome for the Republican party.
So they started flipping their votes from “yes” to “no.”
In the end, the plan went down by a small margin, 119-136. A full 172 Democrats voted “present.”
Digby — although, for good reason, she remains skeptical about Democrats’ long-term willingness to fight back against the far-right ideology that has taken over the Republican Party — called the move “brilliant”:
It’s the way an opposition party in any House should work if it’s any good — using whatever levers it has to turn the other side into a pretzel when it does stuff like this.
Democrats almost succeeded in hoisting the Republicans on their own petard:
House conservatives in the Republican Study Caucus proposed their own budget, one they didn’t mean to replace Paul Ryan’s. It simply put them on the record for deeper cuts. And it wasn’t expected to go anywhere.
So Democrats played a little trick. Most of them voted against it, but they held a lot of their members to “present” votes. That lowered the threshold by which the bill could pass. Republicans were only nine votes short of passage, and they would have been even closer if not for David Dreier, Cathy McMorris Rogers, and Mary Bono Mack seeing the game and switching their votes.
You gotta admit, it’s pretty clever to make Republicans look bad by trying to give them what they really want:
We came very close today to radically reshaping America, at least in the House, by means of the Democrats sitting out voting to try to give the right-ward arm of the Republicans the budget they wanted. That would have been fantastic! I’m very impressed by this stunt. In the end, it was fun enough that Republicans had to vote against the proposed right-wing budget just to keep it from passing.
John Cole chortles:
True, Nancy no longer possesses the Hammer of Thor, but she still has a few tricks up her sleeve.
Hey media? When is John Boehner going to get control of his caucus, and when are those “Republicans in disarray story” going to start appearing?
I love the title of Libby Spencer’s post on this: “GOP scrambles to avoid passing its own bill.”
Um, anyone on the right still want to pretend that Nancy Pelosi is not an effective leader — or that John Boehner is not a clueless buffoon?
Most Republicans were inclined to support the truly insane RSC proposal, but with so many Dems voting “present,” there was a very real chance that the RSC plan would actually pass — and it, not Paul Ryan’s plan, would be the approved budget plan for the House.
And it nearly worked. Many Republicans who’d voted for the RSC plan had to scramble to switch their votes and avoid a huge embarrassment. Indeed, the result itself was still pretty embarrassing — there are 176 members of the Republican Study Committee, but only 119 Republicans voted for the RSC’s plan.
For Congress watchers, this was quite a bit more drama than we’re accustomed to seeing. David Kurtz noted that “chaos erupted” on the House floor, while The Hill said the final minutes of the vote “were characterized by shouting more typical of the British parliament than the U.S. Congress.”
Let me just state this again for the record: Nancy Pelosi is a very effective caucus leader.