February 28, 2013

After a protracted battle that ended in a victory for Obama and Democrats, the House finally passed the Violence Against Women Act by a comfortable margin, 286-138. The bill passed with unanimous support from House Democrats, combined with backing from 87 Republicans. More Republicans — 138 members — voted against the bill than for it, but it passed, anyway.

This is the third major bill in recent months that required a lot of Democratic support to pass the House. As such, it’s a win for Nancy Pelosi, one that confirms an emerging dynamic: House Republicans seem to need the support of House Democrats to get major legislation passed — and to get out of political jams of their own making.

Consider: The fiscal cliff deal, the aid to Hurricane Sandy victims, and now the Violence Against Women Act all passed with Dem support, with sizable GOP defections against all the measures. In these cases, the House GOP was unable to unify behind a solution of its own; the politics of failing to act were growing increasingly untenable for Republicans; and allowing Obama to win a victory by passing something with Dem support was their least bad remaining option.

In the last Congress, Republicans had opposed the Senate version of the bill, but since then, Republicans lost an election in which their support among women had deteriorated. In this Congress, House GOP leaders had hoped to pass their own version of the measure — one that substantially weakened the bill’s protections for certain categories — but it emerged that there was not enough support in the GOP caucus for Republicans to pass it alone. After that, the House agreed to pass the Senate version — with Dem support — again confirming the same pattern on the other bills. In the other cases, continued opposition was fast evaporating as a political option; in this case, continuing to oppose passage of a bill designed to combat violence against women was a sure political loser.

What this again confirms is that we’re facing a very tough governing road ahead. As Congressional expert Norman Ornstein detailed recently, the overriding dynamic is that John Boehner is in the difficult position of needing Democratic support to pass stuff that gets the GOP out of political trouble. Yet it’s hard for Boehner to resort to this option without weakening himself. Today’s events again confirm the need for Democrats to get major legislation through the House. There’s no apparent solution to the sequester in sight that House Republicans could pass that would also be acceptable to the White House and Senate Democrats, so it appears this dynamic isn’t changing anytime soon.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.