House Dems’ clever move puts GOP in tough spot

HOUSE DEMS’ CLEVER MOVE PUTS GOP IN TOUGH SPOT…. If you were fortunate enough to be watching the House floor this morning, you happened to catch the House Democratic minority pulling an entertaining fast one on Republicans.

The House will vote this afternoon on Paul Ryan’s radical 2012 budget plan, but before members weigh in on that measure, an amendment was brought up, allowing House members to vote on the even-more-unhinged Republican Study Committee budget plan, whose architects think Paul Ryan is a moderate.

It wasn’t expected to be close, since Democrats and less-crazy Republicans would defeat it. But Dems had a better idea: why not vote “present” and let Republicans fight amongst themselves?*

A proposal by conservatives to make deep cuts to spending and tax rates was defeated, but only after last-minute maneuvering by Democrats on the House floor.

The Republican Study Committee’s (RSC) alternative to Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) 2012 budget went down in a 119-136 vote, gaveled shut only after Democratic leaders started pushing members to switch their “no” votes to “present,” in order to force a face-off between conservatives and the Republican leadership. A total of 176 lawmakers voted “present.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Twitter: “Dems voting present on RSC budget to highlight GOP divisions, plans to end Medicare – which bdgt does GOP support? Ryan or Ryan on steroids?”

It was a clever idea. 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.

* edited for accuracy