In 1987, House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) refused to end a vote until he had won it, persuading a Democrat to switch sides. In 2003, Republicans extended “15-minute vote” to two hours, and 50 minutes, while Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) rounded up votes. A House ethics committee later found that DeLay had told one legislator that he would help the man’s son be elected to Congress in exchange for a “yes.”
And with the landmark health-care bill pending in late 2009, several key senators wound up with special favors written into the bill. Now, even winning ugly seems impossible.
The House is the best example of the changes in Congress. The last few elections, whip-sawing between Democratic and Republican majorities, have eliminated many of the moderates in both parties. The special favors for the home districts known as “earmarks” have been banned in the GOP-controlled House.
And many of the 87 new GOP freshmen were propelled to office by the tea party movement, which distrusts and disdains the establishment in both parties.
“Neither side has a middle . . . And I think that’s the main problem. That’s why this is unlike anything else,” said Charles Stewart III, a professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said that Boehner is charged with leading a caucus that is primed not to follow him: “I don’t see how this deal is going to happen.”
Some GOP legislators have expressed support of Boehner, but there is a deep skepticism about his as well.
“I really like him, and I respect the way he’s negotiated,” said freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) after Boehner made his pitch to GOP House members. But Walsh won’t support it: he wants a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. “At this moment in time, we can do a lot better,” Walsh said.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, a reporter asked Boehner: “Do you think you can get a majority of Republicans to vote for [his proposal] in the House?”
Boehner didn’t answer. Instead, he turned aside without a word, and a subordinate, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) came to the microphone. “I thank the speaker for yielding,” McCarthy said, as GOP leaders laughed.
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