From 216 back to 217

FROM 216 BACK TO 217…. A House majority is supposed to be 218. This week, we learned, due to vacancies, the new threshold would drop to 216. Yesterday, it got bumped back up to 217.

What happened? Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) retired from Congress last year, bringing the total number of House members to 434. Last month, John Murtha (D-Pa.) passed away, bringing the total to 433. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) resigned over the weekend to run for governor, making it 432, and Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) announced this would be his last week in Congress because he’s running for governor, too, making it 431. A majority of 431 is 216.

Except yesterday, Deal decided to delay his plans.

Representative Nathan Deal, Republican of Georgia, who announced his retirement on Monday, said that he would postpone his departure so that he could stay in Congress to vote against the Democrats’ big health care legislation.

In a statement on Thursday, Mr. Deal said that President Obama’s decision to push for a quick vote on the health care legislation had prompted him to change his plans.

“Just two days after I announced my intentions to leave Congress, the majority party stepped up the schedule for the proposed health care bill. Having been deeply involved in all health care legislation for the past decade, I knew it was important to stay and vote down this bill.”

Deal, facing a series of ethics allegations, said in a statement that he feels compelled to stick around and “fight against the most liberal health care agenda ever proposed.”

Now, Deal is something of a right-wing clown, so his rhetoric is not terribly surprising. But notice the way the two parties handled similar situations.

Abercrombie, a supporter of health care reform, bolted from the Hill when his party needed him, but the Democratic caucus threw him a nice going-away party anyway. Deal was poised to do the same thing, but the Republican caucus urged him to stay a few additional weeks, just to make it that much harder to help fix the dysfunctional health care system.

The parties just seem to play the same game by different rules.

Sure, it’s only one vote, but given the legislative dynamic, it’s going to be just a little tougher to put together 217 votes than 216.