The Republicans’ whip notice originally called for a motion to concur in the Senate amendment. However, the GOP Conference did not want to be perceived as being totally negative when it voted that down. The procedural alternative was a special rule providing for a motion to disagree with the Senate amendment and request a conference to work out differences. Yet, before that even came to a vote in the House, Reid sent his Senate charges home for a month.
After the motion to request a conference was adopted by the House, Boehner appointed eight Republican Members to the conference committee. But House Democratic leaders balked at providing their list of conferees, and Reid didn’t even formally acknowledge the request.
House Republicans (or at least the GOP conferees) were left home alone, holding a bag that grew heavier as public opinion and the national media weighed in on the grinches about to steal Christmas from middle-class taxpayers and the unemployed.
It was comparable to the time in 1996 when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Republicans, having failed to enact any appropriations bills for several weeks running, learned that they, and not President Bill Clinton, were being blamed by their constituents for the government shutdown. Under pressure from Senate Republicans and the public, the House GOP relented and reopened the government.
In much the same manner, Boehner informed his troops by conference call that he was going along with the Senate deal for a two-month extension — this time without giving them a chance to reply. The Republicans’ political majority hung in the balance.
Reid and Boehner agreed to pass a newly introduced bill by unanimous consent, meaning that unless someone objects, the bill is passed without a roll call vote or need for a quorum. The new bill contained the Senate’s bipartisan compromise and a few minor tweaks for small business. Enactment of the new bill kept the original bill alive for the requested House-Senate conference, and House Democrats promptly appointed their conferees. Congress has until Feb. 29 to reach an agreement. Christmas miracles in Congress have a very short half-life.
Don Wolfensberger is a Congressional scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, resident scholar with the Bipartisan Policy Center, and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.