Chris's key votes - a House built on sand?

Over the weekend, I've been mulling the roll call votes from the 109th House that Chris identified as the

twenty-eight votes on actual pieces of legislation where the majority position among Democrats in the House was different from the majority position among Republicans in the House.

(There's a slight hitch to be got over: there are 30 actual RCVs in the list (his #7 is not one, his #11 has four), of which all but one (his #8) involve a majority of Dems voting against, a majority of GOP for. It makes the spreadsheet a pain to leave #8 in, so I've ignored it - leaving 29 votes left to consider.)

Chris's idea in selecting these RCVs was, he said,

those twenty-eight votes provide the answer to the age-old question: how are Republicans different from Democrats?

Some of us doubted at the time whether the test chosen was capable of answering the question posed. But they're certainly important RCVs when considering the cohesion and coherence of the Dem party in the House.

Out of a total of 5,697 votes cast by Dem reps in the 29 votes, 931 (or 16%) were cast for the GOP position. And - we're saying - these are votes on passage (or the equivalent) of bills where the ideological divide between the parties is supposed to be at its most acute!

The total votes cast for (7,157) and against (5,098) left an aggregate margin of victory of 2,059.

But - had the Dems united against the GOP on these votes, the margin would have been reduced - to just 197!

Moreover, taking the 29 votes individually, and flipping the pro-GOP votes of Dem reps to the Dem side changes the result in six of them:


  • Energy bill

  • Endangered species bill

  • Online freedom of speech bill

  • PATRIOT Act renewal

  • Illegal immigration bill

And, in another seven, the GOP majority would have been brought to within ten votes.

Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Dems lost six votes they might have won: given the dynamic nature of the problem, there are things besides mere arithmetic to consider: such as catch-and-release.

But calling attention to catch-and-release is not a magic charm to absolve Dems from their responsibilities: it works both ways.

The argument that the GOP could have strongarmed enough of their reps to pass the bill even if the Dems had been united against it may be true in some cases (though perhaps fewer than drutherful renegade Dems might suppose).

But not only (it's a point often made, though not often enough) does that Dem support allow a lighter touch from GOP whips which buys them favors down the line from whipees.

But one has also to consider the general erosion in discipline that widespread Dem defections on key votes tends to cause among the Dem House party as a whole.

The balance of defection is clear: on the 29 votes, an average of 32 Dems supported the GOP line. The average of GOP reps supporting the Dem line was just 10. (In 12 out of 29 votes, 40 or more Dems supported the GOP position.)

Now, the last time that the Dems controlled the House with a small majority under a GOP prez was the 72nd, Hoover's second Congress, under the speakership of Cactus Jack Garner. There's obviously no experience of this in the current House, and it's not the sort of thing to leave to improv.

Clearly, plans need to be being drawn up now by the Dem House leadership - and those with pretensions to challenge for leadership positions! - to manage such a situation.

If it's all being handled with the organizational skills devoted to the publication of the much-touted Dem Contract with America - we can all give up right now!


(No, really!)

Tags: Building a Real House Majority, Democratic House Party, DINOs, House 2006, HR 6, Ideological Coherence, Party Cohesion (all tags)


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