Opinion: Are House Democrats the minority or majority?
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Sunday, March 3, 2013 21:03
In the history of Congress, we have never seen anything quite like the past two months. Only a few times in the history of Congress has a bill passed without the majority of the majority party voting for it. And three of those times occurred in the past two months.
It started on January 1 with the fiscal cliff deal. The bill was incredibly complex, but its most famous provision was a moderate tax increase on the highest income bracket, consisting mostly of billionaires and multi-multi-millionaires. The tax rates on the richest had sunk to their lowest percentage levels in decades, they had not been raised since 1993 and the nation’s unparalleled deficits required revenue as never before. Of course, for most Republicans this mild tax increase on an incredibly small proportion of the population was a deal-breaker. Only 36.0 percent of House Republicans voted for the bill, 91.5 percent of Democrats did. The bill passed.
Then came Hurricane Sandy relief. The storm unleashed unprecedented damage on several states, most notably New Jersey and New York with some significant damage in Connecticut as well. The subways were flooded as never before, Wall Street closed down for two days for the first time since 9/11 and hundreds of thousands lost their homes or businesses. The Republican answer seemed to be “Whatever.” The past few years have shown that Republicans love federal aid when it affects red states or swing states – such as the Gulf Oil spill near Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama – but they hate federal aid when it affects blue states from the northeast. Only 21.5 percent of House Republicans voted for the bill, 99.5 percent of Democrats did. (The only Democrat no vote was Jim Cooper of Tennessee.) The bill passed.
Then last Thursday came the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. This bill was originally enacted in 1994 by President Clinton to do exactly what it sounds like: provide some level of federal protection to women who suffer physical or domestic abuse. It was reauthorized in 2000 and then again in 2005, and this 2013 version kept the core largely the same while making some minor modifications. So why were Republicans so opposed? One minor modification would have extended the Act’s provisions to apply to same-sex couples. You can’t make this stuff up, that is the actual reason why they opposed the bill. Only 38.7 percent of House Republicans voted for the bill, 100 percent of Democrats did. The bill passed.
For all three of those bills, keep in mind: there are more Republicans than Democrats in the House right now. Not even just one or two more, but 32 more. In that scenario, almost nothing ever succeeds unless at least half of the ruling party supports it. Such an outcome has occurred only a few times before, but to have it occur three times within two months – with a reasonable possibility of it occurring at least once more in the upcoming year – is unprecedented. As leader of the House Democrats, currently the minority party, you would think Nancy Pelosi’s so-called “leadership” status would be barely more than as a figurehead. Instead it at times seems as though she is more of the Speaker than John Boehner, the actual Speaker. In the history of this country, we have never seen anything quite like it.
On the question of Sandy relief, even for those who advocate decreased government spending, disaster relief for our own people seems necessary. And on the Violence Against Women Act, a women who has been beaten to a pulp deserves protection no matter her sexual orientation. And for all the Republicans’ talk about our deficits, they refused to raise taxes on billionaires, which is one of the single biggest things we could do to close the deficit. The Republicans have a lot of good ideas. If you look at the state of the economy and our country over the past four years while Democrats have been in charge, the Republicans might even have more good ideas than the Democrats. As USA Today wrote in a recent editorial, “The nation needs a credible party that advocates smaller government and lower deficits.” I agree. But on all three of those bills, the Democrats were right and the Republicans were wrong.