House hijinks abound today. As they debate five different budget proposals and vote on them, high drama emerged when it came time to vote on the Republican Study Group version, a Paul Ryan budget on steroids.
During the vote on the RSC’s alternative to Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan, Democrats originally voted against the amendment, as expected. With a number of Republicans voting “present” to avoid voting either for or against the plan, it appeared all but certain the conservative budget would fail.
The RSC plan is far more conservative than Ryan’s, balancing the budget in 10 years and imposing significantly deeper reductions in spending.
But Democrats suddenly began switching their votes en masse from “no” to “present.” With each switched vote, the threshold for passage of the amendment — which would have replaced Ryan’s plan altogether — was lowered.
The gambit, which Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) called “great theater,” put Republicans who voted “present” in a difficult position. If they didn’t switch their votes to “no,” the RSC budget would pass, which both the party’s leadership and much of the Conference would be loath to have happen. Dreier switched his vote from “yes” to “no.”
And so, the Democrats forced Republicans to divide and defeat their own budget proposal in the process.
As Dems flipped to present, Republicans realized that a majority of their members had indeed gone on the record in support of the RSC plan -- and if the vote closed, it would pass. That would be a slap in the face to Ryan, and a politically toxic outcome for the Republican party.
So they started flipping their votes from "yes" to "no."
In the end, the plan went down by a small margin, 119-136. A full 172 Democrats voted "present."
Moments after it failed, RSC Chairman Jim Jordan took to Facebook.
"Our Republican Study Committee (RSC) balanced budget came within 18 votes of passing on the House Floor today," he wrote. "I am disappointed we did not win, but this is the closest we have ever been to passing our balanced budget. I am motivated to keep fighting to balance the budget and begin paying down our national debt."
As I write this, the Paul Ryan version of the budget resolution just passed the House, 235-193, with several Republicans falling away to oppose it. As DCCC Chair Steve Israel notes, they have just guaranteed a handoff of the House of Representatives in 2012, because privatizing Social Security and converting Medicare to a voucher program is almost unanimously unpopular.
Of course, most of this is high drama anyway. A budget resolution is non-binding; that is, it sets an agenda but isn't law or anything close to it. For the rest of this session, we will see committees busily working on the nuts and bolts of privatizing Social Security and Medicare, and we will see a hot debate in the House of Representatives, on Fox News, and elsewhere about how we must do this or die.
And in the summer, we will see more astroturfed AFP disturbances at town halls, but this time they'll have to maneuver those people into protesting against themselves.
It's going to be fun to watch.