Republicans were for the shutdown deal before they voted against it

October 17, 2013
(Creative Commons)
A statue of Janus at the Vatican Museum (Creative Commons)

(This post is co-authored with Frances Lee.)

Since the House vote last night ending the shutdown, some scholars have posted useful analyses of the differences in the House GOP Conference. (144 House Republicans voted against the deal and only 87 voted yes.) Sarah Binder sets this vote in the context of Republican legislators’ previous support for Speaker John Boehner on controversial bills. Seth Masket analyzes the voting patterns among tea party caucus Republicans vs. the rest in light of the political leanings of representatives’ districts.

This is all very informative. Yet one fact that most academic analysts and journalists are leaving out is how the vote reached the floor of the House. It did so by unanimous consent. Typically a measure goes through the Rules Committee and a rule is written governing how a bill will be debated on the floor, whether amendments will be allowed etc. In this case, a simple unanimous consent motion was made and no one objected or asked for a recorded vote.

This means that all the representatives, including the diehard, compromise-is-a-dirty-word tea party representatives, let this bill go through. Similarly in the Senate, where a single senator could still have slowed down the process, the likely suspects— including Ted Cruz and Mike Lee — chose not to do so.

This is similar to the pattern Frances Lee and I observed in January on the fiscal cliff deal, another time in which Boehner violated the “Hastert Rule” and allowed a bill to pass with mostly Democratic support. The reason he eventually could do this without endangering his position is that most of his Republican colleagues wanted him to, even many who opposed the bill. (The rule allowing the vote on the fiscal cliff deal won overwhelming GOP support.) Similarly, if Republican legislators were truly interested in stopping the shutdown deal, as opposed to registering their symbolic opposition to it, they would not have let it go through via unanimous consent. Once again, members care at least as much about “position-taking” as policy-making.

This can be read a couple of ways. On the one hand, they are grandstanders. On the other, they are not all the ideologues they sometimes play on TV.

David Karol is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, College Park. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from UCLA.
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