The speaker’s most loyal troopers

October 17, 2013

Spoiler alert! The finale for C-Span devotees. (Photo: Screen shot from c-span.org)

Good thing the president doesn’t hit the sack early.  At 12:30 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17, President Obama signed the Reid-McConnell debt/CR deal into law.  I don’t want to split hairs about whether this counts as an 11th-hour deal, but it’s close enough.

I don’t think too many congressional observers were surprised by the makeup of the final House vote, which tallied 285-144.  So just a little data to flesh out the vote.

* Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) turned in a command performance, producing a completely unified Democratic vote in favor of the deal.  (This was on par with her exemplary August 2011 performance on the debt deal, in which she delivered 95 Democratic votes in favor of the deal and 95 Democratic votes against.)   The unity of the Democratic vote this time around largely reflected that this was a far better deal from Democrats’ perspective.  The deal temporarily funds the government, temporarily waives the debt limit and moves the House and Senate to conference on their budget resolution.  (Better late than never.)
*Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) finally turned to the Democrats to bail his party out of the box canyon it had marched itself into.  The vote was technically a “majority party roll” in the language of party cartel theory or more colloquially a “Hastert Rule” violation: a majority of the majority party voted against the bill and yet it passed (as tallied here by the New York Times).

In the figure below, I juxtapose the makeup of the GOP yea-voters (blue bars) against Republican votes this past year on pivotal votes (red bars). The pivotal votes are described here and include salient votes on Hurricane Sandy relief, the Violence Against Women Act, the farm bill and others.


Graph by Sarah Binder based on House floor roll call votes.

Not surprisingly, 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.  The pattern in short comports with what we might expect: the most pragmatic of Boehner’s conference stuck with him last night to prevent economic calamity that might follow on the heels of a government default.  Unfortunately for the speaker, his more pragmatic colleagues fill just about a third of the seats in his rightward-ho conference.  Too big perhaps to meet in Pete’s Diner, but far too small to command a majority of the Republican majority.

Sarah Binder is a professor of political science at George Washington University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She has authored or co-authored four books on legislative politics, and she has a mild obsession with congressional rules, the history of Congress, and the Fed.
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Sarah Binder · October 16, 2013