Last week’s failure of the farm bill in the House brought to light the fragility of the GOP coalition in the House. Republicans may have a 17-seat majority, but it’s a majority in name only. The factions within the conference have made it almost impossible to corral even a majority of the majority (the so-called Hastert Rule) on bi-partisan pieces of legislation. As one former senior House staffer joked with me the other day, the only way the House will support legislation backed by the White House is when there is a new occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
So, while we wait for a potential vote on immigration reform and the distinct possibility of another debt ceiling showdown, here’s a look at the GOP members most likely and least likely to support bi-partisan legislation.
There have been three significant votes that have passed Congress where a majority of Republicans voted “No.” The bills passed thanks to Democratic support. One bill was supported by the GOP leadership but failed when a majority of Democrats and 62 Republicans voted against it. Here are the four bills:
• The Fiscal Cliff Deal (Jan. 1, 2013) PASSED: 257-167 - 151 R’s voted NO, 85 R’s voted YES
• Sandy Relief Act (Jan. 15, 2013) PASSED: 241-180 - 179 R’s voted NO, 49 R’s voted YES
• Violence Against Women Reauthorization (Feb. 28, 2013) PASSED: 286-138 - 138 R’s voted NO, 87 R’s voted YES
• Farm Bill (June 20, 2013) FAILED: 195-234 62 R’s voted NO, 171 R’s voted YES
There are 33 members (or 14 percent of the conference) who voted against every one of these bills. Think of this group as the “coalition of the unwilling.” They are the least likely to support any legislation that does not have solid GOP support. And, they aren’t going to be motivated by arguments of “doing right by the party.” Not surprisingly, all sit in reliably Republican seats. The majority of these members (70 percent) are in districts with a PVI of R+10 or more.
Republican "No" Votes on Bipartisan Bills (4 of 4 Times)
Add to this list another 69 Republicans who voted against leadership/bi-partisan bills three of four times and you have 102 Republicans who the GOP leadership can’t confidently count on to be with them on tough votes.
On the other side, there is a much smaller group that we can call the “coalition of the willing.” There are nineteen Republicans who voted with the Democrats and/or the GOP leadership on all four pieces of legislation. As should be expected, most of these members sit in swing CDs; half are from the northeast.
Republican "Yes" Votes on Bipartisan Bills (4 of 4 Times)
Add to this group of 19 another 38 Republicans who voted for 3 of these four bi-partisan bills, and the “coalition of the willing” is 57. That is not a majority. However, with the hard-core “coalition of the unwilling” at 102 at the most, Republican leadership still has a “majority of the majority” – 117 members – who are theoretically in play. However, they would still need to craft legislation that could get anywhere from 16 to 86 Democrats votes. And, as we saw with the farm bill fiasco, that means preventing the amendment process from alienating Democratic support.
As immigration reform moves forward, watch the members of these two coalitions to gauge the prospects for passage. Getting public support from the 19 members of the “coalition of the willing” won’t tell us much since they are already the most likely to support a moderate/bi-partisan bill. But, if you see members of the “coalition of the unwilling” saying good things about the legislation (or at least not trashing it) it’s a sign that the GOP will be able to pass a bill without having to count on much Democratic support.
Web Editor Loren Fulton contributed
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