Boehnie and McClyde: Clean Bills, Dirty Tricks, and Messy Issues

The House of Representatives has passed a Department of Homeland Security funding (appropriations) bill, with provisos aimed at President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration. This bill has been blocked in the Senate, with the chamber voting today (Feb 23rd) 47-46 to not invoke cloture on the bill.

Boehner has stated publicly that he is willing to have DHS partially shut down rather than pass a “clean” appropriations bill without the provisos aimed at immigration. Today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced a new strategy. Basically (and, admittedly, apparently), McConnell’s strategy involves two qualitatively different gambits.

First, McConnell is going to offer “clean votes” on the executive actions. This is classic “gotcha” politics. Some Democratic Senators have said they oppose President Obama’s executive actions, and these votes allow a “clean” opportunity for those Democrats to “put up or shut up.” That’s interesting in its own right, as it highlights the distinction between campaign rhetoric and partisan unity. I have not gone and counted how many Democratic Senators are “on the record” as opposing President Obama’s actions, but a simplistic model would imply that McConnell would need 6 (assuming no GOP defectors) to procure 60 votes to get a vote on these separate bills. If I were advising these Senators, I would say, “vote against cloture.” This is cynical, but the second of McConnell’s gambits informs why this is.

This second gambit is that McConnell has (apparently) not guaranteed that these votes would be followed by a vote on a “clean” DHS appropriations bill. Indeed, without a Unanimous Consent Agreement (UCA) or its equivalent, McConnell can’t guarantee to do anything more than call forward such a thing for consideration by the floor. This is because, barring some special (unanimously agreed to, or invoked by cloture) procedure, the DHS bill would be open to amendment under normal rules.[1]

More importantly, from my perspective, if McConnell doesn’t get enough Democrats to vote for the separate anti-executive action bills, there’s nothing to stop him from saying,

“….well, I tried, but you’re all hypocrites. So, now all you Democrats essentially voted to shut down the DHS. That would be `on me’ if I hadn’t given you the chance to clearly take a stand, but I did and you revealed yourselves to be playing dirty pool.”

McConnell can’t commit himself (without a UCA or cloture) to bringing a clean appropriations bill to the floor except by bringing it to the floor before the anti-executive action bills.

This is classic brinksmanship and, to be honest, I’m loving it. For all of the “we’re now going to show how we govern” rhetoric, the GOP is (as I surmise the Democrats would too) rising to the bait of reelection and/or partisan motivations. There is no question that the majority of Americans, put as a separate question, would prefer to have DHS funded. A partial shutdown only causes havoc, incurs large costs on men and women who must work (temporarily) without pay and saves no (indeed, loses) money for the taxpayer.

McConnell is being punked by his copartisan, Speaker of the House John Boehner. Boehner is kind of taunting McConnell—saying

“look, it’s cool that you have the erudite, powdered wig chamber that `cools the tea,’ so to speak, but I’ve had one for a while and, while it runs hot, it’s one where I don’t need to dance around the minority.”

What Boehner really wants from McConnell is exactly what McConnell is providing him with: reason to bring a “clean” appropriations bill, probably on Friday as the shutdown looms largest, and a clear, highly visible storyling justifying his claim to the far-right GOP members that, in fact, Rule XXII (cloture, or more colloquially, the filibuster) is a thing. I think Boehner wants, for internal caucus and reelection reasons (not independent), to bring a clear justification for funding the DHS without driving over the cliff. This only works if Boehner and McConnell dance a delicate dance of “look, constituents… NO HANDS!”

My prediction: stuff will get (even more) complicated in the Senate over the next 48 hours. Then a clean DHS appropriations bill will somehow come out at the 11th hour, and Boehner will secure approval in the House with minimal delay. That said, if you’re traveling by air on Saturday, be prepared for some weird stuff.
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[1] That said, and I’m in the realm of “just enough `knowledge’ to be dangerous,” the bill would be an appropriations bill and therefore arguably somewhat more strongly protected against crazy (i.e., non-germane) amendments on the floor. But, even within the relatively more constrained confines of germane amendments, the GOP could presumably wreak havoc on the Democrats in terms of amendments to the bill.

[Cross-posted at The Mischiefs of Faction]