Dear Corner readers, I know you thought your days of worrying about “deem-and-pass” rules, “ping-ponging,” and other congressional arcana were over when the president signed the Affordable Care Act. But it looks like House Democrats had one bit of wild procedural abuse left in them for the lame duck.
See, we thought the House vote on the middle-class-only extension of current tax rates would be purely symbolic. The short version is that Democratic leadership was worried Republicans would be able to pull in enough moderate Democrats to “recommit” — sending the half-measure tax bill into legislative oblivion. So, they were looking at voting under a suspension of the rules that would take away the recommit. But since that vote would have required a two-thirds majority to pass, it would have been pure political theater, an attempt by Democrats to get Republicans on-record “blocking a tax cut for the middle class” (or, without the scare quotes, on record blocking a tax hike in a recession).
Instead, the Democrats have come up with a procedural trick that allows them to pass the tax hike with a simple majority and denies the minority party their long-enshrined right to offer an alternative. Basically, the Democrats are taking an innocuous air transportation bill — already passed by the House and amended in the Senate — scooping out its insides with a legislative melon-baller, and replacing them with brand new taxes. Since the bill (or at least its exoskeleton) already “passed” the House and that body is merely taking it up again to consider Senate amendments, the Democrats can set the rules of debate very, very narrowly. And indeed, they wrote the rules in such a way that their tax hike amendment, and only their tax hike amendment, can be considered.
I heartily endorse Speaker-designate Boehner’s new nickname for this maneuver: “Chicken crap.”
If there is a bright spot in this, it’s that the procedural vote to allow this bit of chicanery was very close (213-203), with at least 28 Democrats voting against. And Pelosi has scheduled a number of insignificant but time-wasting votes before the tax hike is actually taken up later this afternoon, suggesting that Democratic leadership need that time to whip, whip, whip.