(This post appeared on the author’s blog. Keith Hennessey is the former director of the National Economic Council.)Yesterday I guessed a two in three chance the President would have legislative success, which I now define as at least signing the Senate-passed bill into law.
In the past I have at least been able to fool myself into thinking there was a rational basis for my projections. Now I’m just guessing. I will stick with two in three for the moment, but I am now just picking numbers out of thin air based on some slightly informed guessing. This prediction will be out of date by tomorrow, if not sooner. And I do not anticipate updating it.
That’s because this is now entirely an inside game into which I have extremely limited visibility. If the Speaker can get 216 votes for two bills, then it’s over. But only a handful of people really know how far she is from that goal.
Since I cannot offer you genuine insight, I hope some broad observations will suffice, informed largely by my experience working for the best vote-counter in Senate history, Trent Lott. Senator Lott once said to me, “Keith, I know you were a maths major. I’m going to teach you how to count.”
I hope you will accept these dozen observations in lieu of a real prediction.
- The President and Democratic Congressional leaders have created an external appearance of momentum. That is necessary but not sufficient for legislative success.
- Public expressions of confidence mean little. Democratic Leaders have to predict success whether they believe it or not, because those predictions affect momentum.
- For some Members the substance matters. (I know, that sounds terrible.) We have not yet seen the text of Bill #2 or CBO scoring of it. Additional risk will be introduced as soon as those become public, probably within the next 36 hours. How many times so far have we seen CBO scoring trip up the majority?
- There is a huge difference between needing 1-4 votes and needing 8-10 vote. I don’t know which she is really facing.
- Effective vote counters pick up the easy votes first, so by this time each additional vote is nearly intractable.
- Sometimes you bring a bill to the floor a few votes shy, thinking you can close those last few votes only when the vote is occurring. That’s a huge gamble. You do it only when you have no better option.
- Senate Democrats are an underappreciated wildcard, as is the Byrd rule. Will Senate Democrats blindly accept the substance of Bill #2, or will they try to amend it before passing it? Can Senate Republicans use the Byrd rule to force a change and therefore another House vote? Because of these wildcard factors, House Democrats should be asking their leaders if they might have to vote again on Bill #2 after the Senate considers and possibly changes it, and maybe after the Easter Recess.
- I wish I knew how well the House and Senate Democrats are coordinating. I imagine the trust and execution gaps on Bill #2 are among the largest hurdles the Speaker faces. If they are poorly coordinated, then I would expect some bumps once the legislative text is revealed.
- The Saturday vote target is irrelevant. They will slip it as needed.
- If the House passes Bill #2, assume 3 days minimum for Senate consideration. The motion to proceed is non-debatable, so that takes only 20 minutes for a vote. 20 hours of debate typically takes two full days, plus one more for the vote-a-rama. House passage this Saturday would allow plenty of time for Senate consideration of Bill #2 and for completion of both bills if the Senate does not amend Bill #2. If the Senate does amend Bill #2, then the time for a second House vote on Bill #2 could bump up against the recess deadline. Of course, in this scenario Bill #1 is already on the President’s desk.
- At least as of 2008, the phones still worked on Air Force One. I believe they have working phones in Indonesia and Australia as well. The President’s trip delay is much more about the optics of him being here (or more accurately, the downside optics if he were not here) than about his practical ability to influence votes.
- So much for transparency. Bill #2 is being drafted in the Speaker’s office. So much for regular order in the legislative process, or open debate, or amendments… As recently as two weeks ago the President was admitting that they “could have done better” on transparency. We will never know the extent of side deals being cut to lock down votes, since many of them will be delivered outside this legislation.
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