The Washington Post

Why don’t Republicans want to play more CR Ping-Pong?


Congressional Ping-Pong. Some wear suits. (Michael Temchine for The Washington Post)

Fiscal year 2014 has arrived, unfunded, and no one is singing Auld Lang Syne. Congress’s Ping-Pong tourney to temporarily fund the federal government continues. The House’s latest gambit called for the chambers to end the Ping-Pong and instead start a conference committee to negotiate an agreement over the short-term CR to re-open the government. Senate Democrats intend to reject the House offer. Why don’t House leaders want to play more Ping-Pong? While the players take an over-night break, some bicameral observations are in order:

First, meet my new best friend, the World’s Fastest Deliberative Body (#WFDB). Perhaps the most eye-opening element of the CR politics is the warp factor speed with which the Senate has acted each time the House sends over new amendments to the CR. The last completed volley Monday night — from initial House consideration to the Senate and back to the House — took just 57 minutes. How has this lumbering, supermajoritarian, twisted-in-knots chamber managed to turn itself around and act with dispatch by simple majority vote? Rules and context matter:

For starters, the Senate majority party isn’t trying to exercise what legislative scholars call “positive power.” Loosely speaking, positive power enables lawmakers to make things happen, such as the adoption of new policy proposals to reform immigration laws. The Senate’s move to strip away House amendments to the CR is instead an episode of “negative” power, the ability to block things from happening. Majority leader Harry Reid’s use of tabling motions, which under Senate rules cannot be filibustered, is a classic exercise of negative power. It’s always easier to block your opponent than it is to convince him to join you.

Next, keep in mind that Congressional Ping-Pong (formally, the exchange of amendments between the chambers) has its own rules for play.   Importantly, these rules differ from those that govern the use of conference committees to work out agreements between the chambers. For example, conference-related rules allow filibusters to block the majority from even getting to conference. In contrast, the rules of amendment exchange afford some slight advantage to the majority in considering amendments added by the other chamber. When a unified party majority plays Ping-Pong, the majority’s power seems even stronger: the Senate can act with remarkable dispatch along party lines.

Second, the House’s Hail Mary late Monday night to get the Senate to go to conference on the CR raised a lot of eyebrows on and off the Hill. Why would the House prefer a conference over more Ping-Pong? Some possibilities:

a) Sore losers. The House GOP are clearly losing at Ping-Pong, given the Senate’s institutional and partisan capacity to wipe the slate clean each time the House attempts a new set of restrictions on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Moving to conference changes the players, re-sets the clock, and changes the rules of the game. Rather than whittling down the CR to the clean funding resolution (which Ping-Pong ultimately leads to), any conference report would ultimately need the support of sixty senators. Senate Democrats would be compelled to negotiate an agreement acceptable to a handful of Senate Republicans. The final outcome might ultimately be a clean CR, but going to conference allows House GOP to hold out hope for Democratic concessions.

b) Empowering the moderates. Consider the list of would-be House conferees. Five are appropriators, who (with the exception of Tom Graves) have been relatively loyal to Boehner on pivotal votes this year. Three (Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Dave Camp) are party or committee leaders, for whom the party brand name might matter a lot. True, Tom Graves has spearheaded the fight to block the ACA, but only a majority of each chamber’s conferees must sign a conference agreement. The would-be House GOP conferees might allow Boehner to clip the wings of the far right flank.

All that said, Democrats are not eager to go to conference, not least because both chambers have already voted several times for the same underlying CR. In other words, from Democrats’ perspective, there is nothing left to discuss in conference. Moreover, Senate GOP’s repeated efforts to block the Senate from going to conference on a broader budget resolution earlier this year drives home the irony of the House conference gambit. Seeking “regular order” is only appealing if your party stands to gain from adopting it.  How these bicameral politics play out — and what it takes to get the government open again — remains to be seen.

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.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The New Hampshire primary is today. Get caught up on the race.
What to expect in the New Hampshire primary
The Post's Philip Bump says ...
Since he proclaimed that he'd win New Hampshire last summer, Bernie Sanders has seen a swing of about 50 points in his direction. Impressive. But not as impressive as the guy on the other side of the political aisle. Donald Trump has led the Republican field in New Hampshire for almost 200 days, and has held a lead in 51 straight live-caller polls -- every poll stretching back to last July.
The feminist appeal may not be working for Clinton
In New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders is beating Clinton among women by eight percentage points, according to a new CNN-WMUR survey. This represents a big shift from the results last week in the Iowa caucuses, where Clinton won women by 11 points.
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the state.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont.
56% 41%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.