Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | October 18, 2013

Looking at the House Vote to End the Shutdown

Late on Wednesday, Congress passed a compromise resolution to end the shutdown of the federal government and raise the debt limit. The bill passed the Senate 81 to 18, and then a few hours later, the House approved the bill 285 to 144 (with 3 members not voting).

(The measure funds the government through January 15 and raises the debt limit through February 7, so I guess we get to have another round of this Sturm und Drang in a few months. Joy.)

Looking at a breakdown of the vote in the House, we see that 87 House Republicans voted for the bill, along with all 198 voting Democratic members of the House. 144 House GOP members voted against the measure. This means that Speaker Boehner violated the so-called Hastert Rule, under which Republican speakers for the past ten years or so have refused to bring bills to a vote of the full House unless the measure enjoys the support of a majority of the Republican caucus — a “majority of the majority.” Here, less than 40% of Republicans apparently supported the bill (87 out of 232).

I’m not sure how much longer Mr. Boehner will be Speaker of the House, given the divisions within his own Caucus.

What struck me as interesting (and my reason for this post) was the margin of success of the bill in the House. If all 435 members of the House of Representatives are voting, then 218 Yes votes are needed to pass a bill. (Here, 3 members did not vote, which lowers the threshold to 215, I believe; but the Speaker may not know until the vote is underway whether some members will not vote at all.) So, with 198 Democrats voting for the bill, in theory Boehner only needed between 17 and 20 Republicans to vote Yes for the bill to pass. But 87 Republicans voted Yes on this occasion.

Why so many GOP Yes votes? I have a few theories (none of which I can prove):

1. Boehner may not have been certain that all 198 voting Democrats would vote Yes. (This is the least satisfying theory, since the House Democrats have shown such solidarity throughout the shutdown, since President Obama had indicated that he would sign the bill, and since every Senate Democrat had voted for the compromise measure three hours earlier.)

2. Going into the vote, Boehner and his whips had counted around 87 Yes votes in their Caucus, but they were unsure whether some of those GOP members would switch at the last minute. Alternatively, Boehner knew that he had convinced 87 GOP members to vote Yes, but if he started to “release” some of those Yes votes and let them know it was safe to vote No (which presumably is what their constituents want, or what they think their constituents want, or something), then the act of releasing some of the Yes votes would have begun a cascade effect, with dozens of tentative, nervous Yes votes defecting, thereby bringing the number of Republican Yes votes below 17.

3. The 86 GOP members voting Yes (excluding Speaker Boehner himself) were signalling their continued support for the Speaker in his position.

4. Some portion of the 87 GOP members voting Yes were signalling their frustration with the Tea Party members and distancing themselves from those Tea Party members. (I am assuming that Tea Party members made up a significant portion of the 144 No votes.) Looking ahead to 2014, if there is a public backlash against the Tea Party as a result of this crisis, then distance from the Tea Party could help some GOP members who are in less safe districts. The Boston Globe reports that this may be the strategy of some Northeastern Republicans in “moderate regions.” (There are still Republican House members from New England? Who knew?) On the other hand, this explanation looks weaker in light of the fact that members like Eric Cantor and Darrell Issa were Yes votes.

5. Safety in numbers: assuming that some of the 87 Republican members who voted Yes will face primary electorates who are displeased with the Yes votes, then each embattled GOP Yes voter can point to the other 86 GOP Yes votes as evidence that there were plenty of other Republicans voting for this bill, and the bill passed the House by a large overall majority. So, the GOP Yes votes stuck together in the hopes that they will not be singled out and slaughtered in the 2014 primaries. (I think I like this explanation the best.)

As I said, these explanations are just speculation on my part. New facts, new statements on the record or leaked statements, may provide more insight into this vote in the coming weeks and months.

At the Monkey Cage, Sarah Binder has a post looking at the vote breakdown. An excerpt: “Republicans who supported the deal last night came largely from the ranks of the GOP most loyal to Speaker Boehner. Three-quarters of Boehner’s followers tonight had either never defected from his coalition or bolted just once. Most of the remaining GOP deal supporters had defected just twice on key votes. Finally, just a handful of the yea votes hailed from the most conservative ranks of the conference.”

See also this post by John Huber: “no matter how one counts, there were plenty of Republicans with which the Democrats should have been able to work. But these Republicans never bucked Speaker Boehner or the majority caucus. Instead, they let the House wreak havoc, and they are the ones who truly deserve the blame, because they could have marshaled the votes for a sensible solution but did not.”

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