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One last chance on the budget

OK, so Alito is now a Supreme Court justice, which is very much too bad. (At the end of the day, you can’t defeat a nominee unless he or she cooperates in the effort and/or is significantly worse than the alternative you would expect from the current president.) That fight is over, the next one comes tomorrow.

I often say that there are two factors that are transcendent issues, because they shape the parameters of what’s going to be possible as a society for generations to come: One is judicial nominations, and the other is fundamental choices about budget and tax policy. On the current path, all hope for a government that addresses even basic economic and social needs in the next decades will be cut off. On Wednesday afternoon, the House is scheduled to vote a second on the "Deficit Reduction Bill," which should more appropriately be called the "Make Way for More Tax Cuts Bill." I’ve written recently about the cuts to child support in the bill, and about the wedging of the entire welfare reform reauthorization into the bill, others have focused on the cuts to student loans and Medicaid.

There are a dozen other reasons to oppose this bill, but one of the best is that it represents the end of the game, of the misuse of this closed, anti-democratic process to sneak through provisions that would never pass in the light of day, or to justify further massive tax cuts.

The bill passed by six votes in December, then the Senate forced some irrelevant changes that require a second vote in the House. To bring it down, six Republicans will need to switch their votes and vote against exactly the bill they voted for six weeks ago. But it could happen. CongressDaily reported this morning:

  House Republican leaders face more possible GOP defections Wednesday when they bring legislation to the floor that would trim the growth of entitlement programs and otherwise reduce the deficit by $39 billion over five years. Reversing last month’s 212-206 vote in favor of the bill would still appear to be a long shot, however.
     Over the weekend House Science Chairman Boehlert, who supported the measure last month when it came to the House floor, told Gannett News Service, "I don’t know how I’m going to vote."
     Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., also said over the weekend he was now undecided on whether to vote for the reconciliation bill. The freshman lawmaker voted for the bill last month. "This is a matter that’s under consideration," Fitzpatrick told The Intelligencer of Upper/Central Bucks and Montgomery counties in Pennsylvania.
     The reconciliation bill has passed both chambers by slim margins, but another vote is necessary in the House because of small changes made by the Senate before passage. Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., another reconciliation supporter last month, is also undecided, a spokeswoman said, because he wants to review the Senate-made changes. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., also has indicated some hesitation. Only one Republican, Rep. Rob Simmons of Connecticut, has thus far publicly announced he will switch from supporting to opposing the measure.

This afternoon, word came that Rep. Joe Schwartz of Michigan (who, interestingly, holds the seat occupied by Rep. Nick Smith, the Republican who said he was essentially offered a bribe in exchange for his vote on the Medicare Prescription Drug bill) has changed his vote. That’s two switches and, based on the CongressDaily list, four more on the fence. Two+four=just enough votes to bring down the bill.

A word here for the Emergency Campaign for America’s Priorities, which has led this fight. When this project started, my reaction was doubtful. It shouldn’t be an emergency campaign, I thought, it’s a permanent campaign. But the creativity and the intensity they have brought to the fight, bringing grass-roots groups to members’ offices and blocking every attempt to evade responsibility. Above all, they prevented individual interest groups from being bought off with improvements to their particular piece of the legislation, and kept the focus on the legislation as a whole. That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it had not been done effectively before.

The impact of a defeat on this bill will be huge. It will certainly affect the leadership race, probably bringing DeLayism to an end. The ability of Bush and the congressional leadership to move more tax cuts or unpopular policies through on a strictly one-party basis will be over. And Republicans will still have nothing to show for their years of unilateral power but bigger, more corrupt, ineffective government.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on January 31, 2006 | Permalink


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To those who hate the idea of any solution, much less government solution, to collective action problems, that is quite an accomplishment. That such people exist befuddles me, but they will be very happy with what they've wrought.

Posted by: wcw | Jan 31, 2006 9:25:43 PM

Won't a switch of 4 votes defeat the bill?

4 switch

Posted by: Zach | Feb 1, 2006 11:05:24 AM

While the ultra-close 216-218 win for the Republicans on this issue today was troubling, there were some bright spots. No Democrat voted for it and 13 Republicans had the guts to defy Blunt et al. While some had their own agendas (Ney? Ney!), most of the rest were moderate Republicans. What's interesting is which moderates felt so endangered that they were willing to defy the leadership. These districts should be the party's top priorities for the next cycle.

Posted by: Ruth Fleischer | Feb 1, 2006 8:59:55 PM

Six potential defections with six needed sounds more like four trying to buy something big with their yes vote.

But maybe not. The GOP is on the run, anything is possible.

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