Voting Against the Rule, but to what End?

Recently Erick Erickson and Daniel Horowitz have been working hard to rally House conservatives to try and take down rules controlling consideration of bills with which they disagree. As Mr. Horowitz put it,

The underlying rationale is as follows: if leadership is bent on bringing legislation to the floor that needs Democrat votes to pass, the only way to fight back is by voting against the rule to consider the bill. The minority party usually votes against the rule for a bill backed by the majority. This will enable conservatives to block such legislation and preempt GOP leaders from passing bills opposed by the majority of Republicans.

Likewise, Mr. Erickson wrote essentially the same,

The minority party typically votes against the rules, which means if enough conservatives also vote against the rules, the underlying legislation can either be killed or opened to lots of amendments.

While it seems like a good idea on its face, the shortcoming of the logic ought to be readily apparent to anyone who is paying attention to recent cooperation between the Democrats and the GOP leadership. Democrats are not going to stand against the rules if it means helping the House conservatives attain their legislative goals! To the contrary, Democrats would like nothing better than to further isolate the House conservatives and to pull the GOP leadership further to the left. And the GOP leadership has proven itself to be ready and willing to go the Democrats to get the “votes to pass” the legislation, and they’ll do the same thing when it comes to getting the votes to pass the rule! In short, if there are enough GOP and Dem votes to pass the desired legislation, then the leadership will be able to find enough votes among the Dems to pass the rules.

Mr. Erickson wrote as much:

If the GOP ever starts getting an accurate whip count on these rules and they know conservatives are against them, they will start modifying the rules to woo House Democrats over. House Republican leaders are routinely breaking the Hastert rule these days. They are passing legislation that does not have majority Republican support and relying on Democrat votes to get it passed.

House conservatives are nuts if they think leadership won’t start doing this with the rules.

So if the House conservatives try to block the rule, then the GOP leadership will move the rule and the legislation to the left in order to “woo” the Democrats, thus making bad legislation even worse!

Yet despite that he realizes that the strategy will fail, Mr. Erickson is not ready to give up on the plan just yet. His solution? He’d have the House conservatives deceive the leadership into thinking the House conservatives will support the rule, then “change their mind” at the last minute, thus embarrassing the leadership and stopping the legislation. “House conservatives must be willing to change their mind, even after agreeing to vote for the rule.”

But while it might be fun to thus stick it to the leadership once like this, this seems incredibly shortsighted as it would only delay the inevitable. The rule and the legislation will be rewritten to appeal to a few Democrats and it will eventually pass, only probably without Conservative involvement. And if the House conservatives are setting out to actively deceive the leadership and making them look foolish, then how long to you suppose it will be before the leadership cuts the House conservatives out of the process all together?

If voting down the rules will not stop the legislation, then what is the actual end game here? Is it simply political grandstanding? Is it about checking the right boxes on some Conservative scorecard so we can identify who are the real conservatives? Is it about standing up for principle despite the the futility of the plan? These aren’t necessarily bad goals, but there are costs of repeatedly pushing the mainstream GOP into the arms of the left. For one thing, even worse legislation gets passed. For another, it is habit forming for the leadership and it becomes easier and easier for them work with the left instead of the right. And if the Conservatives are trying to actively deceive the leadership on whether they will support the rules . . . House conservatives run the risk of becoming even more isolated and losing what little say they have over legislation.

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