Thursday, October 08, 2015

Is The Impossible Possible-A Coalition Government In The House?

Kevin McCarthy, the person expected to succeed John Boehner as Speaker, has pulled out of the race. This opens the possibility that something may happen that has never happened before in the House of Representatives: the election of a Speaker who achieved a majority by getting support from both parties.

No one would suggest that this would constitute a real coalition government of the type seen in parliamentary democracies. But it could be a pseudo-coalition, one in which the remaining Republican moderates in the House together with most or all of the Democrats vote together to elect a Speaker and as a condition for Democratic support, agreed to hold votes on certain critical legislative measures.

No one is saying it's likely, in fact it is highly unlikely, if for no other reason than it is never happened. Also, for Republicans to make such an arrangement, they would be conceding that they are unable to govern by themselves, which would have significant impact in future elections. It could also lead to the unraveling of the current Republican Party.

Nonetheless, it is at least conceivable if only because it may be the only thing that keeps our government from imploding.

The self-described "Freedom" caucus in the House of Representatives has said that they will not vote for any member to be Speaker unless it is one of their members. The 435 member House has 247 Republicans of which 40 are members of the Freedom Caucus. The House also has two other right wing Republican caucuses, the Tea Party Caucus and the Liberty Caucus, many of whose members overlap with the freedom Caucus. There is no firm count on how many members can be considered moderate. But these other two caucuses have not made the same demand as the Freedom Caucus.

If all of the members of the Freedom Caucus continue with the position they have announced, it will be impossible for a Republican to get the 218 votes necessary to be the next speaker unless that Republican has support from Democratic members. If no person gets 218 votes there is no speaker elected. Under House rules, the current speaker remains in office until his successor is elected. Of course, it is possible for the current speaker to resign.

In the next days things may change. The freedom Caucus and the rest of the radical Republicans may decide that they will support a moderate member. Or the moderate members may decide that they will support a member of the Freedom Caucus. But at this point neither outcome seems possible. While you don't hear much about it, the more moderate members have serious disdain for the freedom Caucus members for what they are doing the Republican Party. And though it may come as a surprise to some Democrats, there are Republican members who do believe in governing. One example is Charlie Dent R(PA) who said that Republican Rejectionist "fragged" McCarthy as they had Boehner. He went on to say

"The challenge for our conference is quite simple. That we need to assemble bipartisan coalitions to pass any important legislation around here, . . . Whoever's going to be the next speaker should not appease this group of rejectionists who have no interest in governing."

We may disagree with them on most issues but they do not have the same death wish for government that the radicals in the Republican Party have expressed.

Time will tell. But there is a lot at stake. Within the next few weeks we have to pass legislation funding the government for fiscal year 2016, which starts on October 1. In addition, soon thereafter legislation needs to be passed raising the debt ceiling. There is also a critical need to pass infrastructure legislation that will include new revenue. On immigration reform, it is too late for the House to pick up and pass the bipartisan Senate bill which passed last year since that occurred in the last Congress. However it would be possible, though it would be highly unlikely, for the House to introduce and pass the same bill that passed the Senate and send it to the Senate for final approval.

Kevin McCarthy's withdrawal from the speakership race is frightening because of the possibility of total legislative gridlock, even worse than what we have seen heretofore. But maybe, just maybe, it presents an opportunity.