The Party Line
Tue February 25, 2014
Debt Ceiling Vote Reveals GOP's Challenges In Congress
With the debt ceiling vote now behind the House GOP caucus, the consensus seems to be that the Speaker of the House surrendered yet another confrontation to the president.
In doing so, the Speaker had to use the votes of all but two Democrats, along with 28 of his own party’s members, to secure the needed votes to pass a clean debt ceiling measure.
While it is rare to see “bipartisanship” on a measure in today’s House of Representatives, the debt ceiling vote is another sign of the polarization not just between the two parties, but within the House GOP conference itself.
There could be different ways of defining the split within the House Republican membership; one approach was developed by the Cook Political Report and classified the membership into three broad categories: the ‘coalition of the willing,’ the ‘coalition of the unwilling,’ (both groups are fairly even in their numbers), and the ‘deciders,’ a significant plurality within the conference.
In classifying each GOP representative, the Cook Report used five key votes in 2013 to arrange the members into the respective groups and further classify them into categories, ranging from 26 “allies” to 27 “the rebels.”
With the debt ceiling vote, Boehner got eight allies, nine dependables, 5 helpers, and only one skeptic in casting ‘aye’ votes. Granted, none of them were majorities within any of the categories, but the speaker got the needed votes to combine with all but two Democrats and pass the legislation.
Another way to measure is through the scores developed by political scientists to classify legislators on a +1 to -1 scale (more towards +1, more conservative, while towards -1 is more liberal).
As this graph demonstrates, the parties have grown further and further apart since the 1970s.
Based on the 2012 scores, the mean of the House GOP conference was a 0.718, while the Democrats’ caucus saw a mean of -0.385.
Of those who voted with the Speaker, only two “yea” votes from Republicans came from more conservative than the entire conference, while the others came from members who are less conservative than the conference’s average.
What this may tell us is that House GOP is continuing to be a fractured group and that Speaker Boehner continues to struggle to find ways to pass meaningful legislation.
So we averted another fiscal calmity—so now what can we expect? Well, according to some, a whole lot of nothing.
And as we near the election, the likelihood is that any form of major action wouldn’t occur. The 113th Congress is probably going to protect its landmark status of least productive Congress.