The Collapse of the House Republican Majority

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
July 31 2013 7:57 PM

The Collapse of the House Republican Majority

175084238
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 31: What now, guys?

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

I'll confess that I've been ignoring various missives about the THUD approps bill (that's the annual appropriations bill for the Department of Transportation and Department of Housing and Urban Development) for a couple of weeks now, but the fact that GOP leaders had to yank it from the floor late this afternoon is a big deal.

The backstory, as Brian Beutler eloquently explains, is that the comeuppance Democrats have in some ways been expecting for years finally seems to have arrived. In its various iterations, Paul Ryan's budget documents have implicitly called for massive cuts in domestic discretionary spending that are far beyond anything any practical governing majority in congress has ever attempted to do. But as long as the debate stayed at the level of the budget, those cuts were entirely abstract, vague, and general. It's when you get down into the weeds of the appropriations process that you have to say "so much less for this program, so much less for that program" that things get thorny. This year, House Republicans intend to write domestic appropriations bills down to the Ryan level. And yet the THUD bill proved to cut too much—the specific issue looks to have been a 50% whack given to Community Development Block Grants—to secure majority support in the House. So it's back to the drawing board.

Advertisement

Mathematically speaking, the problem here is somewhat similar as to the failed farm bill where writing a bill that was acceptable to the median House member proved insufficiently right-wing for a critical mass of House conservatives.

It's in the conjunction of these two failures that you see a mortal threat to the practical existence of the Republican governing majority in the House. That's because if you can't find 218 Republicans out of 234 to vote for a bill, the other option is to start with 201 Democrats and try to add two dozen Republicans. And in many ways, that kind of coalition makes more sense given that to become law a bill also needs to pass a majority-Democratic Senate and be signed into law by a Democratic president. A "Pelosi Plus" House bill, in other words, can actually become law whereas a Boehner Majority House bill is at best a bargaining ploy. Now normally that kind of legislation simply can't move in the House. The party that holds the majority forms a cartel and blocks bills from coming to the floor that don't have support in the majority caucus. Boehner has allowed select violations of this so-called Hastert Rule (though in practice the rule predates Hastert) but there's at least a chance that he'll be forced to suspend it wholesale throughout the appropriations process.

A relevant precedent for this, in some ways, could be seen in the 1981-82 congress that gave us the Reagan Revolution. Republicans won the presidency in the 1980 elections and secured a majority in the Senate, but Democrats still held the House. A large faction of conservative Boll Weevil Democrats were willing to support a lot of Reagan ideas, but that was far from a majority of the House Democratic caucus. But in what I think you'd have to consider a rare concrete example of a "mandate," Speaker Tip O'Neill let conservative bills come to the floor and let the Democratic majority get rolled by a GOP-Boll Weevil coalition on a bunch of key votes.

The dynamics of a meltdown of the GOP majority would be different from that and so would the legislative outcomes. There won't be an "Obama Revolution" if the Republicans get rolled, but there just might be bipartisan deals to replace sequestration and reform the immigration system. The Republican majority, in other words, may be nearly immune to electoral defeat thanks to favorable district boundaries—but it's not immune to its own dysfunction.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.