How the payroll tax debate has become less democratic

at 10:59 AM ET, 12/21/2011

Having voted down the Senate payroll bill Tuesday, House Republicans claim they’re still committed to coming up with a compromise, having now convened what’s known as a “conference committee” to resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills.


(SOURCE: REUTERS)

There are lots of reasons that John Boehner would favor this option, as Ezra explains this morning. But there’s also evidence to suggest that the House GOP’s conference will be even less likely to come up with a deal that can pass both chambers — and is in practice a less democratic procedure.

Jordan Ragusa, a political scientist at the College of Charleston, explains that conference committees tend to be less representative than the membership of the full chamber itself:

[I]f we consider the members who typically serve in a conference committee then conference committees are typically not democratic. Ryan Vander Wielen and Steven Smith have a 2011 paper in Congress & The Presidency where they show that in both the House and Senate, conference committees are biased with respect to the membership of the parent chamber. That is, they are unrepresentative. Jeffrey Lazarus and Nate Monroe reach a similar conclusion a 2007 paper. Lazarus and Monroe note that the Speaker has the power to name managers in addition to the jurisdictional committee members who typically serve in a conference. And when the Speaker believes that a conference of jurisdictional managers would produce an unsatisfactory outcome the Speaker flexes his or her appointment power and names pro-majority conferees. In short: “the Speaker appoints other conferees in addition to those from the jurisdictional committee, thereby “packing” the delegation in favor of the majority party position.”

In fact, more than half of the GOP House members Boehner chose for the conference — including Reps. Kevin Brady, Tom Price, Renee Elmers, Dave Camp and Tom Reed — have all criticized the very concept of the payroll tax itself, as one Senate Democratic aide pointed out. That could undercut the House GOP claim that its opposition to the Senate’s two-month extension is based on a principled commitment to a full-year tax extension.

 
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