Pelosi Could Make It A Long Night In The House

The general consensus seems to be that Congress will pass this budget deal and the government will not shut down tonight. An additional consensus is that Nancy Pelosi’s marathon filibuster (or at least the House version of it) at the same time Chuck Schumer was pushing his budget agreement with Mitch McConnell was yet another example of the Democrats in disarray, once again speaking in different and conflicting voices, and once again disappointing their base by not defending DACA.

I’d like to offer at least an alternate theory. First of all, Pelosi’s stunt did force Speaker Ryan to promise to bring some sort of bill to protect DACA to the floor. That is something in itself. Secondly, everyone knows the Senate needs Democratic votes to get the 60 votes needed to pass a budget. Because of that, the media still managed to blame the Democrats for the prior shutdown even though Republicans could not muster 50 votes from their own caucus for the deal. It is entirely different in the House. There, Republicans can pass a budget with the votes they already have with no help from Democrats at all. If a budget deal fails in the House, only Republicans can be blamed.

So let’s play out this scenario. The Senate passes the budge deal agreed upon by Schumer and McConnell. As the Washington Post points out, this increases funding for domestic spending and fulfills at least three promises of the Democrats’ “Better Deal”, including “$5.8 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant program; $20 billion in infrastructure spending, including rural broadband funds, with no corresponding cuts; and a special joint committee on fulfilling pension obligations, with the results to be voted on by the end of the year”. It will fund CHIP for the next decade, increase funding for the NIH, accelerate elimination of the Medicare “doughnut hole, take care of the community health centers, and repeal the Medicare limit on physical therapy. Those are all results Democrats can take credit for.

The bill will then move over to the House. Nancy Pelosi has said she will not vote for the bill and the Democratic House leadership has been pretty coy about what freedom they will allow the caucus on this vote, implying they will let their members vote freely, but also not committing to get the budget passed either.

Pelosi could force the House Democrats who want to vote “yes” to the deal to hold their votes. There will be plenty of Freedom Caucus members who are apparently going to vote no, the question being whether there will be enough of them to actually stop the bill without those Democratic “yes” votes. If that is the case, Pelosi could hold those Democratic votes out, forcing Ryan to either close the vote and have the budget deal go down, something that only Republicans could be blamed for, or keep the vote open and allow Pelosi to extract more concessions from Ryan on DACA before providing those “yes” votes and passing the budget. Alternatively, Pelosi could whip the caucus and demand the “no” votes and let Paul Ryan and the House Republicans be blamed for the government shutdown.

Now, admittedly, Ryan will be playing a similar game, trying to hold off the Freedom Caucus “no” votes as long as possible to make it seem like he has enough Republican votes to pass the budget without Democratic votes and potentially leaving those Democrats who want to vote “yes” high an dry by closing the vote as soon as the last Republican “yes” vote to pass the bill is cast.

But, if Ryan doesn’t have enough Republican votes to pass the budget on his own, the question will be whether Pelosi will provide the votes to pass it or let it fail, causing a government shutdown from which it would be difficult for the Republicans not to be blamed.

Maybe I’m being too conspiratorial here, and perhaps Ryan and Pelosi have already come to some kind of agreement. But I really wouldn’t be surprised if we see another scenario where Ryan has to hold the vote open for quite a while after its time has expired in order to get it passed. And that time will be filled with lots of negotiating on the floor and a real game of cat and mouse between Ryan and Pelosi.

Originally published at on February 8, 2018.