House Democrats Are About To Hamstring Themselves

Well, you knew the good times wouldn’t last. The House leadership is pushing hard for a very, very stupid rule (boldface mine):

The proposed rule changes require more time for the review of legislation before a floor vote, changing the standard from three days — which often means a little more than 24 hours — to a full 72 hours. They would require every bill sent to the floor by the Rules Committee to get a committee hearing and markup before getting a floor vote. They would create a supermajority requirement to raise individual income taxes on the lowest-earning four-fifths of taxpayers. And they would require each legislative committee to hold “Member Days” to solicit legislative ideas from lawmakers who don’t serve on those committees.

Higher payroll taxes for healthcare–let’s say, Medicare for all–would affect the bottom eighty percent. This is bad.

It’s also worth noting that stupid rules that make it harder to pass tax increases are what led to the various teacher uprisings last year. By all means, let’s have that ire aimed at Democrats. And this rule would also hurt other Democratic initiatives (boldface mine):

And the same can be said for legislation establishing universal child care, paid family leave, or any other program aimed at easing the middle class’s financial burdens by dramatically expanding the public sector’s ambitions. Equating support for middle-class families — with opposition to increasing their tax rates — is a conservative project, which Democrats have no business advancing. If the party wishes to establish structural barriers to policies that would hurt the middle class, why not require a three-fifths majority to cut Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security?

…Once procedural rules are established, however, they can be difficult to eliminate. There are plenty of Democrats in the House who don’t want to be forced to chose (publicly) between voting for higher taxes on the middle class and against a priority of the progressive base. Such lawmakers are sure to value (and thus, insist on the preservation of) a procedural obstacle that allows them to forgo voting on legislation that forces them to make such hard choices by rendering such bills impossible to pass without GOP buy-in (which is to say, impossible to pass).

All this would be a bit less problematic if the Democratic Party had overcome its allergy to deficit spending (and/or accepted Modern Monetary Theory as its personal truth). But it hasn’t: In addition to forbidding tax increases on the bottom 80 percent, Pelosi has vowed to honor the “pay as you go” rule, which requires the House to fully finance any and all new government spending.

Taken together, these two requirements could make Medicare for All impossible to pass out of the House. It is true that the supermajority rule is specifically worded to bar increases in individual income taxes, as opposed to payroll taxes (the primary funding mechanism for Bernie Sanders’s single-payer bill). But it seems unlikely that this distinction will be honored in practice: As a political matter, it will be difficult to insist that a rule titled “Protect the Middle Class From Tax Increases” does not apply to payroll-tax hikes, given that such hikes increase taxes on the middle class. And if the distinction between income and payroll taxes doesn’t stick, then the super-majority rule would render a whole host of Democratic policies nonviable.

If Democrats want to remove various tax breaks, these might also get caught up in the rule as well.

Last week, there was a great hullabaloo over whether Speaker Pelosi should get the Speaker position. While she’s a great floor general, she has a history of mediocre policy positions that makes it hard to advance significant progressive change.

A cynic might argue that’s a feature, not a bug.

Regardless, this is a stupid rule from the House leadership.

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2 Responses to House Democrats Are About To Hamstring Themselves

  1. coloradoblue says:

    I have little doubt the Dems will blow any chance they have of building a true working majority and passing progressive legislation just like they did last time they held the WH, Senate and House. Failure to pass real bills that are designed to help the MAJORITY of Americans will cause the millions who came out for Dems for the first time and the millions of Independents who switched to the Dems to say “Meh” and stay home in 2020. It doesn’t matter that such bills will die in the Senate, Dems have to give people and REASON to vote for them – but won’t.

  2. Bayesian Bouffant, FCD says:

    And they would require each legislative committee to hold “Member Days” to solicit legislative ideas from lawmakers who don’t serve on those committees.

    Are there lawmakers who do not know how to get their legislative ideas to the appropriate places? Why should Congress cater to the incompetent?

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