House Democrats haven’t won a single floor vote on a motion to recommit this year, but the defeats suit them just fine.
Winning these votes on the floor is not this minority’s stated goal. As one senior Democratic aide said, “MTRs are all political.”
Instead of upending Republican bills with the procedural maneuver, Democrats have chosen instead to simply force Republicans to take tough votes on politically sensitive topics that will reappear in the form of 30-second ads during next year’s election season.
“We’re going to be aggressive, as we have been, on educating voters in districts around the country that their Republican representatives have voted against their interests,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said in an interview. “I believe these votes will help shape the results in a significant number of districts.”
Democrats have offered 59 MTRs on the floor this year, and they haven’t picked off more than four Republicans for any one of them. In some instances, Democrats have even lost a few dozen of their own Members on the votes.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has led the effort on MTRs, procedural measures the minority can offer as a last-minute attempt to change the majority’s legislation. So far this year, Democrats have offered amendments on everything from cutting off funds for Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” to granting National Public Radio money to broadcast Amber alerts for abducted children.
“We want to point out the differences between us and Republicans on public policy,” said Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), a Pelosi confidant who at the beginning of the year offered an MTR that would have banned any Member who opposed the health care reform law from receiving government health benefits.
Procedurally, Democrats have been far more successful this year at defeating bills on suspension. A group of 26 Republicans joined progressive Democrats in an unexpected alliance to sink a USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill in February that fell short of the two-thirds support needed for passage. Democrats also temporarily threw the appropriations process into chaos in September by voting down a stopgap funding resolution, which several conservative Republicans also opposed.
While GOP leaders have had difficulty corralling conservatives at times this year, they’ve mowed down every MTR by maintaining they are irrelevant procedural votes. Not surprisingly, Democrats insist that they are part of a Member’s voting record and should be judged by voters back home.
In a preview of their 2012 election strategy on MTRs, the DCCC hit Rep. Bob Turner back in his New York district last month after the newly minted Congressman voted against a procedural motion that would ban land exchanges with any company or contractor who does business with the Iranian government. A DCCC spokesman hammered Turner, whose district is heavily Jewish, in the local press for “putting partisan politics ahead of global security and the safety of Israel” by voting against the motion.
Turner spokesman Trey Stapleton was unmoved, asserting that Democrats “attempt to force an issue on a procedural vote in order to divert attention away from the fact that they have no plan to fix our economy and get Americans back to work.”
Democrats were successful in getting another New York Republican, Rep. Peter King, to cross party lines and vote for an MTR in June that would have increased funding for transportation security in the Homeland Security appropriations bill.
King, who is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said he voted for the MTR “to send a message to Republicans about how important this issue was.”
King noted that Republican leaders “were not happy about it.” But he also pointed out that it was the only MTR he’s voted for this year and that “I understand their position and why they want to keep everybody in line.”
“I think it’s good that [Speaker John] Boehner and [Majority Leader Eric] Cantor are trying to keep people in line on motions to recommit, and I’d be surprised if they hurt anyone at all next year,” King said.
Republicans had a much better record in winning MTR votes on the floor while they were in the minority. Twenty-one of their MTRs passed by the end of the first session of the 110th Congress in 2007. One of those procedural motions, an MTR meant for the D.C. voting rights bill that would have lifted the District’s ban on handguns, was so threatening to the Democratic majority that it was never brought up for a vote.
Just as Republicans set an early tone on MTRs when they were in the minority, scoring a few wins early and then splintering the Democratic Caucus with several more motions later on, the GOP quickly laid down a marker to vote against all procedural motions this year. By voting en bloc against every Democratic motion, GOP aides contend, Members can uphold the argument back home that procedural votes are irrelevant.
Freshman Rep. Trey Gowdy said, “I’ve yet to be asked about a motion to recommit” back home. He acknowledged the proposals “can be alluring,” and that as a member of the Whip team he has had to work with his colleagues to defeat the last-minute proposals.
Still, the South Carolinian added, “I do give [Democrats] high marks for ingenuity; they do come up with some interesting MTRs.”