Friday, December 04, 2015

The "Vote No, Hope Yes" Caucus Gets a Scolding from House Leadership

In a development that should shock no one, new House speaker Paul Ryan has inherited exactly the same dilemma that bedeviled now-former speaker John Boehner: how to keep the government running without Republican hard-liners poking him with pitchforks. Congress must appropriate money in order for the government to function, but Republican members of Congress don't like to vote for appropriations bills because they're full of things that a potential primary challenger can attack them for supporting—especially since any legislation must be acceptable to Barack Obama in order to be signed into law. This dynamic repeatedly forced Boehner to bring up spending bills at the last minute, often under threats of imminent shutdown or default, and pass them with most Democrats voting yes and most Republicans voting no—a violation of the "Hastert Rule" norm restricting floor access to measures with a support of a majority of the ruling party.

The result is a textbook case of a collective action problem. Most Republicans agree that a government shutdown is a bad idea that will hurt their party. Individually, however, they believe that opposing the bill is good politics for themselves. Thus the rise of the "vote no, hope yes" caucus—or, in the words of Homer Simpson, the "Can't Someone Else Do It?" coalition—of Republicans who want these bills to pass even as they personally refuse their support. Of course, this is free-riding to a degree; if no Republicans voted in favor, the bills would fail, so the vote-no-hope-yes group is receiving the benefit of averting a shutdown while letting any political cost fall on their yea-voting colleagues. This behavior prompted a scolding from House Republican whip Steve Scalise, who recently circulated a memo to House Republicans complaining that “Too many in our conference are falling into the pattern of voting no on tough bills while actually hoping the bill passes because they know that the outcome will be even worse if the bill fails.”

Ryan ascended to the speakership while pledging a return to regular order and by assuring the House Freedom Caucus that he would not cut them out of policy-making. He's arguing now that these promises shouldn't apply to the current spending bill, which executes the overall budget plan negotiated by Boehner on his way out the door. On the other hand, the arch-conservatives aren't making things easier for him either, as they are proposing and supporting a number of policy riders that would cause Democratic support to disappear if they were actually included in the law—even though many of them will vote against the overall bill whether or not the riders are included. Ryan clearly enjoys much more good will among the hard-liners that Boehner had by the end of his speakership, and it's likely that he will resolve these matters before the government is scheduled to shut down. Clearly, however, the basic dynamics that caused Boehner such grief have not been fundamentally affected by his departure.