The House of Representatives’ Money Problem

There’s a lot of excellent commentary out there about the latest House Republican fiasco — they had to pull an appropriations bill from the floor at the last minute yesterday because they didn’t have the votes. As several have pointed out, the problem is that they were happy to vote for huge cuts in the abstract (in the House budget resolution) but not in the specific, in the actual appropriations bills. As I said, good analysis from several, including Brian BeutlerGreg Sargent, and Matt Yglesias.

I’ll just add one bit that I don’t think is getting quite enough emphasis. Remember, this is all about getting to 218. Republicans are trying to do that, essentially, with partisan bills — which means they have to supply the bulk of the 218, perhaps all of it, on their own. And as everyone says, the big problem is that to satisfy the bulk of their conference they wind up with bills so extreme that they lose their own moderates.

But it’s also true that even these bills, bills too extreme to pick up any moderate Democrats, bill so extreme that they lose moderate Republicans…also are not extreme enough to get all of the conservatives. That’s what the reporting about Transportation-HUD says. See also: the vote on this appropriations bill, which lost 9 Republicans; or this one, where they lost 10. There are 234 Republicans in the House, but the cold hard fact is that on appropriations bills there are at least a handful who are probably out of reach.

At the very least, Republican whips have to focus a lot of energy on those who should be happiest with these bills. But that, presumably, could have the advantage (for the hard-liners) of moving things in their direction. To the extent they are just “no” votes, however, they not only lose whatever leverage they might have, but also reduce the effective size of the GOP majority…and make it more likely that nothing that conservatives like can emerge from the House. Let alone be enacted into law.

In other words, they are putting their own purity ahead of their policy preferences.

I’m not saying that’s the whole story here, but it is a part of it.

For the larger story, just remember the Boehner rule: the House can (often, not always) manage to pass party-line partisan symbolic measures, but for substance, the Senate goes first.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.