A Functional Majority Versus an Absolute Majority

Yes, the rest of us get to thoroughly enjoy watching the Republican party have a collective public breakdown.  They can’t rope anyone into being speaker because the Republican caucus is so dysfunctional. Their begging Paul Ryan to lead them.

It would be more fun if the consequences of the Republicans’ failure to govern weren’t so staggeringly immense.

At Washington Monthly, Martin Longman makes an interesting point:

To summarize, the only majority that matters in Congress is the majority that funds the government and pays the bills. If the Republicans cannot supply one on their own, they cannot be the majority on their own. The Democrats led them to believe otherwise. But the truth has won out.

Longman’s argument is built one a series of observations:

  • The US has a two party political system
  • That two party system is even more evident in Congress
  • Funding the government happens through the appropriations process and although the two parties have wildly different priorities, they have, traditionally, managed to fund the government.
  • The majority, Republicans, set the spending priorities
  • Democrats disagree with many of those priorities
  • Republicans have, in recent years, been unable to produce a majority on their own so they’ve relied on Democrats.
  • Democrats have gone along with this because the consequences were too grave to not go long with it.
  • We have a de facto coalition government such as you might see in a parliamentary system.

Why would Dems go along with this?

The Democrats have really taken on the role of enablers here, in the same classic way in which people inadvertently help alcoholics and drug addicts continue to use their substance of choice by smoothing over the full consequences of their actions. When John Boehner can’t keep the government open or pay our bills and protect our nation’s credit rating, he should crash and burn. His party should crash and burn. Instead, it’s like Pelosi hires him a high-priced lawyer to quash that conviction for drunken driving. Boehner lives for another day, but his party still can’t govern on its own.

In reality, whatever coalition of elected representatives ultimately votes for the appropriations bills is the coalition that controls Congress. They are the functional majority that produces the most important thing that Congress is responsible for doing. And if that functional majority is made up of mostly Democrats, then the Democrats ought to be making the decisions about not just whether that money is spent but how it is spent.

The Republicans have been operating like a party in a parliamentary system for years now. The House, in particular, has operated that way. What Longman is arguing for here is that Democrats could and should leverage the fact that Speaker needs them to keep government functioning.  Let’s, Longman seems to be saying, just embrace reality and act like a coalition government in a parliamentary system – one in which a minority but governing partner gets certain privileges (i.e. chair of committees, input into spending and budgeting priorities) in exchange for their votes with the majority to form a government.

Longman uses a key phrase – “functional majority.”  Here’s what that would look like:

The Speaker would figure out how to find 218 members who will vote to fund the government. Then those 218 members would get together and elect leaders to serve on the appropriations committees. Most of the those leaders would be Democrats because most of the 218 members willing to spend money to keep the government open would be Democrats.

Given that Republicans are the majority this seems unlikely – right?

Now, if John Boehner threatened to actually do this and his threat had any credibility, a lot of Republicans would stop dicking around and get on board with being responsible adults. If the Republicans who don’t want to be led by Democrats got reasonable, it would turn out that Boehner only needs 30 or 40 Democrats to keep the government operating. They’d have to give the Democrats a few slots, but not the majority of them.

Stated simply, Democrats have enabled Republicans to act like jackasses.  Forced to deal with their recalcitrant and crazed “Freedom Caucus”, Republicans would grow up and actually govern.

I’m not sure that’s true.

The Republican base is in a state of frothing fury. They hate Obama and the Democrats with a white hot rage; but they hate their own members even more. Any Republican who went along with explicitly creating this functional majority would find him or herself facing a furious tricorn hat wearing teabagger frothing about RINOs and betrayal.

The choice we face is between bad options at this point since actual governance is beyond the Republican party’s ability. Their absolute majority is riven by internal conflict and unable to govern. A coalition to at least maintain the actual functions of government has been necessary. It’s time to accept that.

  1. #1 by Larry Bergan on October 13, 2015 - 12:17 am

    Radical Republicans have been trying to turn this into a one party system for decades. They’ve used bullying, cheating, lying and have broken every legal and moral law along the way. It’s been a lot of hard work and they simply aren’t going to put a moderate in as the house leader.

    I actually saw Dick Cheney’s name being floated. My pick would be Ted Nugent.

  2. #2 by Richard Warnick on October 13, 2015 - 9:25 am

    Last night on MSNBC Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out that Rep. Ryan’s lack of interest in the speakership could be because he already has more power as the chairman of Ways and Means.

    If we went to a semblance of a parliamentary system, then the Shutdown Caucus (I call things by their appropriate names) would end up in the role of a minor party that’s on the outside of the ruling coalition. Our elected representative can’t pull that off, so we’re headed into a another crisis.

  3. #3 by Larry Bergan on October 13, 2015 - 9:30 am

    Paul Krugman always lays out what’s really happening.

    My take is that Republican strategy has always been to have a lot of fringe guys out there – some, even in the congress -, who say outright crazy things, with the hope that they can eventually get radical policies passed by their guys in high positions of power, sometimes decades later. Problem is that now, the guys in those high positions are indistinguishable from the planted lunatics. Definitely a job killer.

    • #4 by Richard Warnick on October 13, 2015 - 9:36 am

      Unlike the left, the right is truly radical because they refuse to accept anything they don’t like, even if it’s settled law. Like Lawrence of Arabia, for them “nothing is written,” and anything is possible.

      Nothing is Written – Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

      • #5 by Larry Bergan on October 13, 2015 - 5:09 pm

        Definitely one of those great, triumphal movie scenes everybody loves. The last thing I’d like to see, concerning today’s “conservatives”.

  4. #6 by Richard Warnick on October 13, 2015 - 1:14 pm

    Andrew O’Hehir / Salon:

    [N]obody actually likes the Republican Party, as it currently exists. The American public is divided between those who hate the Republicans for being irrational and intransigent and racist, and those who hate them for not being irrational and intransigent and racist enough.

  5. #7 by Larry Bergan on October 13, 2015 - 2:57 pm

    Alan Grayson might actually be able to claim success in having McCarthy running away from the speaker post. Right after he admitted that Benghazi-Benghazi was a cheap political trick, Grayson filed an ethics charge.

    It is a very serious charge.

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