House GOP comes up short on Patriot Act

HOUSE GOP COMES UP SHORT ON PATRIOT ACT…. Even the scheduling of the vote came as something of a surprise. We knew the House would take up the reauthorization of the Patriot Act fairly soon, but midday, the Republican leadership announced the vote would come in the late afternoon, presumably to help get it over with before opponents could begin a concerted push against it.

The vote didn’t go as GOP leaders had planned.

House Republicans suffered an embarrassing setback Tuesday when they fell seven votes short of extending provisions of the USA Patriot Act, a vote that served as the first small uprising of the party’s tea party bloc.

The bill to reauthorize key parts of the counterterrorism surveillance law that expire at the end of the month required a supermajority to pass under special rules reserved for noncontroversial measures.

Right. Because it was on the suspension calendar, it needed a two-thirds majority. The final tally was 277 to 148, with supporters far outnumbering opponents, but that lopsided margin wasn’t quite enough — supporters needed seven more votes to get over two-thirds threshold.

For Patriot Act critics, this was a pleasant surprise, but the satisfaction will very likely be short-lived — the reauthorization will come back to the floor later this month under regular order, and will need only a simple majority to advance to the Senate.

Still, this was fairly embarrassing for the Republican leadership, which expected an easy win yesterday, only to come up short. Boehner, Cantor, & Co. apparently need to keep a closer eye on their own caucus, after 26 Republicans broke ranks and voted with 122 Democrats against the measure, a development the leadership apparently didn’t know was coming.

You’ll likely hear some media accounts saying that the “Tea Party” wing of the GOP was responsible for beating back the Patriot Act, but that’s not quite true. Of the 26 Republican “nay” votes, only eight came from the massive freshman class, and many of those generally associated with the right-wing faction — including Michele Bachmann and Allen West — voted with the GOP leadership in support of the bill. Indeed, looking specifically at the 52 members of the House Tea Party Caucus, 44 of them voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act.

Tea Partiers, in other words, generally backed the bill, their rhetoric about “limited government” notwithstanding.

But while it wasn’t Tea Partiers who were responsible for the outcome, it’s extremely unusual for 26 House Republicans to blow off their leadership on a high-profile vote on anything. Indeed, the vote came after GOP leaders had to pull a trade-related bill that rank-and-file Republicans didn’t like, and after Appropriations Committee leaders were told rank-and-file Republicans aren’t satisfied with the size of the proposed budget cuts.

A month into the new Congress, it appears Republican leaders are struggling a bit in the “leadership” department.