Parliamentary Procedure Tricks
By Pejman Yousefzadeh Posted in Democrats | House Democrats | Three-Card Monte — Comments (5) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
The House Democratic Caucus has a problem: It has a number of freshmen members who got elected from conservative districts. Said freshmen members will not long survive if they do not show some "independence" from the House Democratic leadership. It is a political necessity for them to be able to go back to their constituents and say that many a time, they were brave enough to cast votes defying Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Majority Whip James Clyburn and Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel.
Read on . . .
Half a dozen freshman Democrats took to the House floor one late-October morning to cast their lot with Republicans.
Their actions went unpunished by the Democratic leadership that day, as they have on many other occasions in recent weeks. The symbolic gesture -- casting nay votes on approving the House Journal, essentially the minutes of the previous day -- would have no bearing on the leadership's agenda.
While they overwhelmingly support that agenda, the bloc of freshmen has begun casting votes against such minor procedural motions in an effort, Democratic sources and Republican critics say, to demonstrate their independence from their leadership. The number of votes that the potentially vulnerable newcomers to Capitol Hill cast against House leaders is tallied and watched closely by interest groups and political foes.
Such is the political life of many of the 42 freshman House Democrats, a sizable number of them moderates and conservatives who must straddle the fence between supporting their party's interests and distancing themselves from a mostly liberal leadership as they gear up for their first reelection battle next fall.
And . . . that's it. There are no major substantive differences between the freshmen and the House Democratic leadership. There are no serious philosophical divides between the two camps. The House Democratic leadership allows the freshmen to pose as latter day subjects of a "Profiles in Courage" piece while at the same time ensuring that when it comes to actual substantive votes, the freshmen display absolute fealty to the leadership:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of the party's leadership are happy to tolerate the independence on procedural matters. Less than three hours after opposing the late-October journal vote, the same six freshmen sided with Pelosi as Democrats tried, and failed, to override President Bush's veto of a bill to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years, legislation that Pelosi has called her "crown jewel."
"I'm viewed as an independent. I'm viewed as a conservative Democrat," said Rep. Jason Altmire (Pa.), the first freshman to regularly oppose his party's leadership on the journal vote.
Like several others, Altmire offered no explanation for voting against all but one of 18 roll calls on the routine measure, adding that he had no "pre-planned" rationale for the votes. "I'm certainly not going to win or lose my reelection based on my journal votes," he said.
Too cute by half. Altmire must know that most voters won't delve into the specifics of his voting record to find that in the overwhelming majority of instances in which he took a bold and brave stance against his own party leadership, those bold and brave stances entailed voting against approving the journal. And even if his opponent in 2008 tries to explain to the voters that Altmire is as independent of the House Democratic Leadership as Dmitri Medvedev will be of Vladimir Putin, it's not the kind of ad that can be succinctly explained in 30 seconds. It's also not the sexiest of issues. Mention parliamentary procedure to voters and their eyes glaze over.
The rationalizations for this flim-flam game are just laughable:
Some freshman Democrats have taken the idea of voting against their party leadership on procedural votes one step further, opposing mundane matters such as the journal vote.
Altmire has sided with the opposition in 17 of 18 journal roll calls this year. Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) has cast 15 votes with the GOP. In the spring, only a few freshmen voted against the journal, but one recent vote drew 13 freshmen in opposition, and in another, 11 voted nay. Now a half-dozen or more regularly oppose whenever a roll call is held.
Democratic leaders acknowledge that they have encouraged the freshmen to sometimes vote with Republicans on politically difficult issues, but deny that they have had any input on the Congressional Record votes.
"We've given them very simple advice: Make sure you vote your district," [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris] Van Hollen said.
And how, precisely, do Congressional districts break down on journal approval votes? Come on. A five-year old can see through this.
Yes, as the article notes, when Speaker Gingrich started getting unpopular, Republican Representatives pulled the journal trick. But it wasn't nearly as systematic as it is now with the freshman Democrats. If this is "independence," then the word has lost any luster it may have had in the past.