The current practice is: nothing gets passed in the House unless it is with the majority of votes needed, all coming from the Republican Caucus. That means anytime the far-right wing of the party, a group of 30 to 40, oppose something, the vote is never taken. For in many cases, if it was, there would be more than enough Democrats who would go along to pass it. That is what has held up many important pieces of legislation that have had the votes in the Senate but died in the House.
With the scheduled resignation of the Speaker for late October, he has an option that he has not been willing to play up to this point. For the sake of the country, his legacy, and the broader image of the Republican Party, he could simply allow key legislation to come up and let the Democrats provide the votes necessary to make them pass. With what appears to be the positive influence of the Pope’s visit on the Speaker, it could happen and certainly should.
What makes this personally interesting is that it is similar to one of the challenges I had when I was Speaker of the House in Kansas. Out of the 1976 election, Democrats achieved a majority in the Kansas House for only the second time in Kansas history, with 65 Democrats and 60 Republicans. To pass any legislation, it would require no less than 63 votes, meaning if there was no Republican support, I could lose only two Democratic votes to be successful. The difference from today in Washington is that, back then, the pressure to get basically all Democrats on board only occurred on new initiatives that we Democrats were pushing. The bulk of the daily agenda, including all budget issues, were debated and voted on without strict party control.
In Washington now for some time, that pressure to unify the party in power has been on almost everything. This means that if the Speaker couldn’t pass it with only Republicans, he didn’t bring it up, giving huge power to a very small minority—a minority that the Speaker (as you’ll see in the video clip below) clearly labeled as unrealistic in the their approaches. The result has been stalled progress on a number of key issues of importance to the American people. Now Speaker Boehner has a small window to make tangible steps to improve the country, but will he seize the moment?