House Dems’ Plan: Play Hardball!

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Now that they’re in the minority, House Democrats are trying to devise the best ways to force tough votes on their Republican colleagues. Even before the start of the new Congress, liberal House members promised to be aggressive in the minority, as Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told me directly after the Democrats’ shellacking in November. House Democrats tell Roll Call about one strategy they’re particularly keen on using—a procedural maneuver called the “motion to recommit,” which essentially allows them to tack on an amendment-like provision to each piece of legislation before final passage. While Republicans have frequently used such tactics when they’ve been in the minority, Democrats haven’t always seized upon such opportunities. Now party leaders like Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) say it’s time to play tough:

So far, Democrats have offered four such motions this Congress: a proposal to require Members to publicly disclose whether they will accept government health insurance, a measure barring a health care repeal bill from taking effect unless a majority of lawmakers forfeit their government-sponsored health insurance, a proposal to bar companies that outsource jobs from obtaining government contracts and a proposal to require disclosure of foreign campaign contributors….

Israel acknowledged that Democrats are attempting to mimic the strategy that Republicans used when they were in the minority for the past four years….”The Republican playbook when they were in the minority had three chapters: Chapter 1, go on offense; Chapter 2, just say no; and Chapter 3, don’t lift a finger to help,” Israel said. The only chapter in their playbook that I will use is Chapter 1. We will be aggressive, and we will be on offense.”

The hope is that the tactics will force Republicans to take politically tough votes, giving the Democrats more ammunition when it comes to 2012. But it’s unclear how effective the tactic will be, as even some Republicans say it may have limited long-term political traction—and point out that more conservative Dems, like Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have voted against three of the four Motions to Recommit that the Dems have offered up so far.

What’s more, Republicans are also promising to turn the tables on the Democrats by forcing tough, largely symbolic votes. On the health care front, for example, they’ve countered the Democrats’ effort to push for votes on the most popular provisions of reform by vowing to force tough votes for more conservative Dems—like on health reform’s taxes on device manufacturers, for example. While the predominantly liberal caucus of House Democrats won’t bat an eye at such votes, they may leave the moderates in the Senate—many of whom are up for re-election in 2012—in the hot seat. So while House Democrats may be eager to play hardball in the minority, the game is not without its risks.

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